Damage tolerance and toughness of elderly human femora

Saulo Martelli, Mario Giorgi, Enrico Dall' Ara, Egon Perilli

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14 Citations (Scopus)
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Observations of elastic instability of trabecular bone cores supported the analysis of cortical thickness for predicting bone fragility of the hip in people over 60 years of age. Here, we falsified the hypothesis that elastic instability causes minimal energy fracture by analyzing, with a micrometric resolution, the deformation and fracture behavior of entire femora. Femur specimens were obtained from elderly women aged between 66 – 80 years. Microstructural images of the proximal femur were obtained under 3 – 5 progressively increased loading steps and after fracture. Bone displacements, strain, load bearing and energy absorption capacity were analyzed. Elastic instability of the cortex appeared at early loading stages in regions of peak compression. No elastic instability of trabecular bone was observed. The subchondral bone displayed local crushing in compression at early loading steps and progressed to 8 – 16% compression before fracture. The energy absorption capacity was proportional to the displacement. Stiffness decreased to near-zero values before fracture. Three-fourth of the fracture energy (10.2 – 20.2 J) was dissipated in the final 25% force increment. Fracture occurred in regions of peak tension and shear, adjacent to the location of peak compression, appearing immediately before fracture. Minimal permanent deformation was visible along the fracture surface. Elastic instability modulates the interaction between cortical and trabecular bone promoting an elastically stable fracture behavior of the femur organ, load bearing capacity, toughness, and damage tolerance. These findings will advance current methods for predicting hip fragility.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-177
Number of pages11
JournalActa Biomaterialia
Early online date14 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2021


  • Biomechanics
  • Bone fracture prevention
  • Elastic instability
  • micro-architecture
  • Osteoporosis
  • time lapsed imaging
  • Digital volume correlation
  • micro-CT


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