2D, coronal plane, finite elements models (FEMs) were developed from orthogonal radiographs of a diaphyseal tibial fracture and its reparative tissue at four different time points during healing. Each callus was separated into regions of common tissue histology by computerised radiographic analysis. Starting point values of tissue material properties from the literature were refined by the model to simulate exactly the mechanical behaviour of the subject's callus and bone during loading. This was achieved by matching measured inter-fragmentary displacements with calculated inter-fragmentary forces. Stress and strain distributions in the callus and bone were calculated from peak inter-fragmentary displacements measured during natural walking activity, and were correlated with the subsequently observed pattern of tissue differentiation and maturation of the callus. The growth and stiffening of the external callus progressively reduced the inter-fragmentary gap strain. Partial maturation of the gap tissue was apparent only one week before fixator removal. Principal stresses in the callus were compared with `yield stresses'in corresponding tissue from the literature. This indicated the presence of stress concentrations medial and lateral to the fracture-gap, which probably caused tissue damage during normal activity levels. Tissue damage may also have precipitated partial structural failure of the callus, both of which were believed to have delayed healing during the middle third of the fixation period. Had the fixation device provided greater inter-fragmentary support during early healing, this may have prevented callus failure and the consequent delay in healing. A further benefit of this would have been the reduction of the initially high intra-gap tissue strains to a magnitude more conducive to earlier maturation of the bridging tissue that united the bone.
Fracture; Finite Element; Displacement; Callus; Healing