The distribution of cortical bone in the proximal femur is believed to be a critical component in determining fracture resistance. Current CT technology is limited in its ability to measure cortical thickness, especially in the sub-millimetre range which lies within the point spread function of today’s clinical scanners. In this paper, we present a novel technique that is capable of producing unbiased thickness estimates down to 0.3 mm. The technique relies on a mathematical model of the anatomy and the imaging system, which is fitted to the data at a large number of sites around the proximal femur, producing around 17,000 independent thickness estimates per specimen. In a series of experiments on 16 cadaveric femurs, estimation errors were measured as −0.01 ± 0.58 mm (mean ± 1 std.dev.) for cortical thicknesses in the range 0.3–4 mm. This compares with 0.25 ± 0.69 mm for simple thresholding and 0.90 ± 0.92 mm for a variant of the 50% relative threshold method. In the clinically relevant sub-millimetre range, thresholding increasingly fails to detect the cortex at all, whereas the new technique continues to perform well. The many cortical thickness estimates can be displayed as a colour map painted onto the femoral surface. Computation of the surfaces and colour maps is largely automatic, requiring around 15 min on a modest laptop computer.
Keywords: Cortical bone; Osteoporosis; Hip fracture