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J Bone Miner Res. 1991 Apr;6(4):417-26.

Measurement of mechanical properties of bone material in vitro by ultrasound reflection: methodology and comparison with ultrasound transmission.

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Department of Radiology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas 75235.


An ultrasound reflection technique was designed and implemented to study the mechanical properties of bone material. The technique uses the fact that an ultrasound beam produced in water undergoes total internal reflection off a bone sample at a critical angle formally related to the velocity of a pressure wave in bone. When the plane of scattering is rotated around the normal to the sample surface, the critical angle varies with a periodic dependence dictated by the intrinsic symmetry of the bone structure at the point being examined. Most current measurements of sound velocity are made using transmission techniques. A double-blind intercomparison between this technique and a transmission technique, which was previously validated against tensile mechanical testing, was performed for samples of isotropic materials and of human cortical bone. Strong correlations were found for both sets of samples. For the isotropic materials the velocities were approximately equal, but for bone they were on average 11% higher in reflection than in transmission. This was the result both of the higher frequency employed in reflection (3.5 rather than 2.25 MHz) and of the different effects of sample imperfections on the two measurements. In particular, the reflection technique used in this work studied the surface of the sample, but the ultrasound beam in the transmission method propagated through its interior. In assessing the mechanical properties of bone specimens by ultrasound, the reflection technique samples a discrete bone surface element and the transmission method analyzes the entire volume of the specimen. Thus the reflection technique may yield a measure of the mechanical property of bone trabeculae that is largely unaffected by the mass of the entire specimen, but mass and the structural density of the specimen affect the transmission method.

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