Prediction of the strength of the elderly proximal femur by bone mineral density and quantitative ultrasound measurements of the heel and tibia

Bone. 1999 Jul;25(1):49-54. doi: 10.1016/s8756-3282(99)00093-9.


Quantitative ultrasound (QUS) of the heel and tibia have recently been approved in the United States for diagnostic evaluation of low bone mass. The goal of this study was to use human cadaveric specimens to compare correlations among: a) strength of the proximal femur; b) bone mineral density of the femur, tibia, and heel; and c) QUS of the tibia and heel. We obtained 26 proximal femurs and intact lower limbs from 16 female and 10 male cadavers, with a mean age of 81+/-12 years. Bone mineral density (BMD, g/cm2) of the proximal femur and tibia were assessed using dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, and BMD (g/cm) of the heel was measured using single-energy x-ray absorptiometry. Ultrasound velocity at the mid-tibia was determined using a contact, gel-coupled ultrasound device. Broadband ultrasound attenuation (BUA) and speed of sound (SOS) of the heel were determined using a transmission ultrasound device with water-based coupling. The femurs were tested to failure in a configuration designed to simulate a fall to the side with impact to the greater trochanter. As in previous studies, the strength of the proximal femur was very strongly correlated with femoral BMD and heel BMD (r2 = 0.78-0.92, p < .0001 for all). BUA and SOS of the heel were also strongly correlated to femoral strength (r2 = 0.70 and 0.67, respectively, p < 0.0001 for both), whereas tibia SOS was only weakly correlated (r2 = 0.19, p = 0.03). The average coefficient of variation for triplicate tibial SOS measurements was 0.50%. This study indicates that, although tibial SOS measurements are precise, they are not strongly correlated with femoral BMD or strength. In contrast, heel QUS measurements are strongly correlated with the strength of the proximal femur. These findings imply that tibial SOS may be of limited use for assessing hip fracture risk. Prospective fracture risk data are needed to define further the clinical utility of tibia ultrasound measurements.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Bone Density / physiology*
  • Female
  • Femur / diagnostic imaging
  • Femur / physiology*
  • Heel / diagnostic imaging*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Tensile Strength
  • Tibia / diagnostic imaging*
  • Ultrasonography