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British Orthopaedic Research Society (BORS)


There is an established link between bone quality and fracture risk. It has been suggested that reduced bone quality will also reduce the toughening mechanisms displayed during loading at a high strain rate. We hypothesised that partially decalcified bone will not demonstrate an increase in force required to cause failure when comparing low and high strain rate loading.

Mechanical properties were defined by the maximum force at failure. Bone quality was defined by the mineral content. This was altered by subjecting the bones to ultrasonically assisted decalcification in 10M EDTA to achieve an average 18% mineral reduction (A 70 yr old woman has approx 18% of her peak bone mass). 20 pairs of sheep femurs were harvested and split into four equal groups: normal bone quality, fast strain rate (NF); normal bone quality, slow strain rate (NS); low bone quality, fast strain rate (LF) and low bone quality, slow strain rate (LS). All mechanical testing was carried out by means of 3-point bending. Load representing the slow strain rate was applied by a mechanical testing machine (Zwick) at a rate resulting in a deflection of 1mm/s. The dynamic loading was applied by a custom designed pneumatic ram at a mean rate of deflection between the specimens of 2983 mm/s (±SD 1155), this equates to strain rates experienced in a road traffic accident.

The following results for force at failure were found (mean ± SD). NF: Force 5503N (± 1012); NS: Force 3969N (± 572); LF: Force 3485N (± 772); LS: Force 3165N (± 605). Groups were compared using a Mann-Whitney U test. Significant results were found between the following groups: Normal bone quality, strain rate compared (NF-NS) p<0.002; Fast strain rate, bone quality compared (NF-LF) p=0.008; Slow strain rate, bone quality compared (NS-LS) p=0.02. No statistical significance was found when comparing low bone quality, strain rate compared (LF-LS) p=0.47.

These results show that normal healthy bone has an ability to withstand higher strain rates which protects it against fracture. This ability to withstand high strain rates is lost in decalcified bone making it more susceptible to fracture. The results of this study indicate the importance of strain rate reduction as well as energy absorption in the design of hip protectors and in environmental modifications.