It is difficult to define the ‘physiological’ mechanical properties of bone. Traumatic failures in-vivo are more likely to be orders of magnitude faster than the quasistatic tests usually employed in-vitro. We have reported recently [Hansen, U., Zioupos, P., Simpson, R., Currey, J.D., Hynd, D., 2008. The effect of strain rate on the mechanical properties of human cortical bone. Journal of Biomechanical Engineering/Transactions of the ASME 130, 011011-1-8] results from tests on specimens of human femoral cortical bone loaded in tension at strain rates () ranging from low (0.08 s−1) to high (18 s−1). Across this strain rate range the modulus of elasticity generally increased, stress at yield and failure and strain at failure decreased for rates higher than 1 s−1, while strain at yield was invariant for most strain rates and only decreased at rates higher than 10 s−1. The results showed that strain rate has a stronger effect on post-yield deformation than on initiation of macroscopic yielding. In general, specimens loaded at high strain rates were brittle, while those loaded at low strain rates were much tougher. Here, a post-test examination of the microcracking damage reveals that microcracking was inversely related to the strain rate. Specimens loaded at low strain rates showed considerable post-yield strain and also much more microcracking. Partial correlation and regression analysis suggested that the development of post-yield strain was a function of the amount of microcracking incurred (the cause), rather than being a direct result of the strain rate (the excitation). Presumably low strain rates allow time for microcracking to develop, which increases the compliance of the specimen, making them tougher. This behaviour confirms a more general rule that the degree to which bone is brittle or tough depends on the amount of microcracking damage it is able to sustain. More importantly, the key to bone toughness is its ability to avoid a ductile-to-brittle transition for as long as possible during the deformation. The key to bone's brittleness, on the other hand, is the strain and damage localisation early on in the process, which leads to low post-yield strains and low-energy absorption to failure.
Keywords: Bone; Failure; Strain rate; Ductile-to-brittle transition; Microcracking; Damage; Localisation