Mechanical behavior of articular cartilage was characterized in unconfined compression to delineate regimes of linear and nonlinear behavior, to investigate the ability of a fibril-reinforced biphasic model to describe measurements, and to test the prediction of biphasic and poroelastic models that tissue dimensions alter tissue stiffness through a specific scaling law for time and frequency. Disks of full-thickness adult articular cartilage from bovine humeral heads were subjected to successive applications of small-amplitude ramp compressions cumulating to a 10 percent compression offset where a series of sinusoidal and ramp compression and ramp release displacements were superposed. We found all equilibrium behavior (up to 10 percent axial compression offset) to be linear, while most nonequilibrium behavior was nonlinear, with the exception of small-amplitude ramp compressions applied from the same compression offset. Observed nonlinear behavior included compression-offset-dependent stiffening of the transient response to ramp compression, nonlinear maintenance of compressive stress during release from a prescribed offset, and a nonlinear reduction in dynamic stiffness with increasing amplitudes of sinusoidal compression. The fibril-reinforced biphasic model was able to describe stress relaxation response to ramp compression, including the high ratio of peak to equilibrium load. However, compression offset-dependent stiffening appeared to suggest strain-dependent parameters involving strain-dependent fibril network stiffness and strain-dependent hydraulic permeability. Finally, testing of disks of different diameters and rescaling of the frequency according to the rule prescribed by current biphasic and poroelastic models (rescaling with respect to the sample’s radius squared) reasonably confirmed the validity of that scaling rule. The overall results of this study support several aspects of current theoretical models of articular cartilage mechanical behavior, motivate further experimental characterization, and suggest the inclusion of specific nonlinear behaviors to models.
Cartilage; Biomechanics; Unconfined-Compression; Poroelasticity; Biphasic Model; Viscoelasticity