Previous studies of the fracture properties of cortical bone have suggested that the fracture toughness increases with crack length, which is indicative of rising R-curve behavior. Based on this indirect evidence and the similarity of bone to ceramic matrix composites, we hypothesized that bone would exhibit rising R-curve behavior in the transverse orientation and that the characteristics of the R-curves would be regionally dependent within the cortex due to variations in bone microstructure and toughening mechanisms. To test these hypotheses, we conducted R-curve experiments on specimens from equine third metacarpal bones using standard fracture mechanics testing methods. Compact type specimens from the dorsal and lateral regions in the middle of the diaphysis were oriented for crack propagation transverse to the longitudinal axis of the bone.
The test results demonstrate that equine cortical bone exhibits rising R-curve behavior during transverse crack propagation as hypothesized. Statistical analyses of the crack growth initiation toughness, K₀, the peak toughness, Kpeak, and the crack extension at peak toughness, δa, revealed significant regional differences in these characteristics. Specifically, the lateral cortex displayed higher crack growth initiation and peak toughnesses. The dorsal cortex exhibited greater crack extension at the peak of crack growth resistance. Scanning electron microscopy revealed osteon pullout on fracture surfaces from the dorsal cortex and but not in the lateral cortex. Taken together, the significant differences in R-curves and the SEM fractography indicate that the fracture mechanisms acting in equine cortical bone are regionally dependent.