This study tested a theory about vertebral cancellous bone stiffness by performing experimental tests and comparing the results with the theoretical predictions.
To test experimentally a theoretical prediction that vertebral cancellous bone appears stiffer than would be expected from isolated tests because of the constraining effects of the cortical bone, to measure the magnitude of this strengthening effect and its dependency on tissue composition and density.
Vertebral bodies are composed mainly of cancellous bone surrounded by a thin shell of much stronger cortical bone. Little is known of the ways in which these two materials function synergistically to produce strong but light structures and why sometimes extensive damage to the cancellous bone has apparently little outward effect on vertebral body strength.
Cancellous bone from 45 lumbar vertebrae from a homogeneous group of pigs was tested in compression both in situ in the vertebral body and as an excised cylinder. The density and composition of the bone were then measured and correlation tested with both of the stiffness measurements.
The cancellous bone in situ appears much stiffer than when isolated by a factor of about 4 (range, 1.6-12). No correlation was found between stiffness, either in situ or in isolation, and density, although density is predicted entirely by the volume fractions of water, organic, and mineral phases.
Combining low density cancellous bone with stiffer, more dense cortical bone leads to a lightweight structure that is much stronger than might be expected from the isolated properties of its components.
*From the Department of Orthopaedics, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland
†From the Department of Biomedical Physics, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland