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J Biomech. 2006;39(10):1812-8. Epub 2005 Jul 21.

Development of residual strains in human vertebral trabecular bone after prolonged static and cyclic loading at low load levels.

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Orthopaedic Biomechanics Laboratory, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, 94720-1740, USA.


Development of irreversible residual strains in trabecular bone may be a mechanism by which age-related non-traumatic vertebral fractures occur. To investigate this concept, static and cyclic loading tests were conducted at low loading levels for cylindrical cores of cadaveric vertebral trabecular bone. Stresses were applied equivalent to elastic strains of either 750 or 1,500 microstrain. Creep strains were measured during the tests, which lasted for 125,000 seconds (about 35 h), and for an additional 125,000 seconds after complete unloading. Emphasis was placed on the residual strains that developed, defined as the strain remaining at the end of the unloading phase. The results indicated that appreciable residual strains did develop, and were similar for static and cyclic loading. Irrespective of the applied load levels and loading modes, the residual strains that remained after the unloading phase were similar in magnitude to the originally applied elastic strain. Extrapolation of the observed residual strains to full recovery indicated that the time that would be required for full recovery was over 20 times longer than the duration of the applied loads. These results indicate that human vertebral trabecular bone does not creep in a linear viscoelastic fashion at low stress levels, and that creep mechanisms dominate the residual strains regardless of the loading mode. Taken together, these findings support the concept that non-traumatic vertebral fractures may be related to long-term creep effects because the trabecular bone does not have sufficient time to recover mechanically from creep deformations accumulated by prolonged static or cyclic loading.

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