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Proc Inst Mech Eng H. 1998;212(4):273-80.

The compressive strength of articular cartilage.

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Department of Aerospace Engineering, University of Bristol.


Articular cartilage provides the smooth bearing surfaces in freely moving (synovial) joints. Its mechanical properties are important because structural failure of cartilage is closely associated with joint disorders, including osteoarthritis. Some mechanical properties of cartilage are well characterized, but little is known about its compressive strength. A technique for measuring cartilage compressive strength is evaluated, and an overview of experiments which relate strength to stiffness and tissue hydration is given. Specimens of bovine articular cartilage-on-bone, approximately 15 mm square, were loaded on a hydraulic materials testing machine using flat impermeable indentors. Linear-ramp loading/unloading cycles of 1 s duration, and of increasing severity, were applied until failure was evident on force-displacement graphs. Some specimens were tested following a 30 min period of creep loading. Inkstaining and histology were used to locate the site of initial damage to each specimen. Specimen failure occurred first in the cartilage surface layer at a nominal applied stress of 14-59 MPa (mean 35.7 MPa). Mechanical properties were little affected by specimen or indentor size, provided both remained within defined limits, and compressive strength could be measured to an accuracy of approximately +/- 5 per cent. Compressive stiffness was a significant predictor of strength, but only if it was measured at high levels of stress. Strength increased following creep-induced water loss, and initial mechanical damage could propagate under moderate cyclic loading. This technique for measuring cartilage compressive strength has potential for investigating the causes of cartilage failure in vivo.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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