The relative role of the cortical vs trabecular bone in the load-carrying capacity of the proximal femur—a fundamental issue in both basic-science and clinical biomechanics—remains unclear. To gain insight into this issue, we performed micro-CT-based, linear elastic finite element analysis (61.5-micron-sized elements; ~280 million elements per model) on 18 proximal femurs (5M, 13F, ages 61–93 years) to quantify the fraction of frontal-plane bending moment shared by the cortical vs trabecular bone in the femoral neck, as well as the associated spatial distributions of stress. Analyses were performed separately for a sideways fall and stance loading. For both loading modes and across all 18 bones, we found consistent patterns of load-sharing in the neck: most proximally, the trabecular bone took most of the load; moving distally, the cortical bone took increasingly more of the load; and more distally, there was a region of uniform load-sharing, the cortical bone taking the majority of the load. This distal region of uniform load-sharing extended more for fall than stance loading (77±8% vs 51±6% of the neck length for fall vs. stance; mean±SD) but the fraction of total load taken by the cortical bone in that region was greater for stance loading (88±5% vs. 64±9% for stance vs. fall). Locally, maximum stress levels occurred in the cortical bone distally, but in the trabecular bone proximally. Although the distal cortex showed qualitative stress distributions consistent with the behavior of an Euler-type beam, quantitatively beam theory did not apply. We conclude that consistent and well-delineated regions of uniform load-sharing and load-transfer between the cortical and trabecular bone exist within the femoral neck, the details of which depend on the external loading conditions.
Keywords: Femoral neck; Load sharing; Euler beam theory; Cortical vs trabecular