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J Biomech. 2004 Sep;37(9):1295-303.

Do microcracks decrease or increase fatigue resistance in cortical bone?

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  • 1Orthopaedic Research Laboratories, School of Medicine, University of California at Davis, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


Fatigue of cortical bone produces microcracks; it has been hypothesized that these cracks are analogous to those occurring in engineered composite materials and constitute a similar mechanism for fatigue resistance. However, the numbers of these linear microcracks increase substantially with age, suggesting that they contribute to increased fracture incidence among the elderly. To test these opposing hypotheses, we fatigued 20 beams of femoral cortical bone from elderly men and women in load-controlled four point bending having initial strain ranges of 3000 or 5000 microstrain. Loading was stopped at fracture or 10(6) cycles, whichever occurred first, and microcrack density and length were measured in the loaded region and in a control region that was not loaded. We studied the dependence of fatigue life and induced microdamage on initial microdamage, cortical region, subject gender and age, and several other variables. When the effect of modulus variability was controlled, longer fatigue life was associated with higher rather than lower initial crack density, particularly in the medial cortex. The increase in crack density following fatigue loading was greater in specimens from older individuals and those initially having longer microcracks. Crack density increased as much in specimens fatigued short of the failure point as in those that fractured, and microcracks were, on average, shorter in specimens with greater numbers of resorption spaces, a measure of remodeling rate.

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