Anatomical and biomechanical investigations of the iliotibial tract

Surg Radiol Anat. 2004 Dec;26(6):433-46. doi: 10.1007/s00276-004-0265-8.


Divergent descriptions of the anatomic location and biomechanical function of the iliotibial tract (IT) can be found in the literature. This study attempted to obtain exact data regarding the anatomic course and material characteristics including the biomechanical properties of this structure. The following were its aims: (1) anatomical investigations of the IT; (2) mechanical properties of the IT; (3) femoral head centralizing force of the IT and subligamentous forces in the height of the greater trochanter in different joint positions by using a custom-made measuring prosthesis and a subligamentous positioned sensor; (4) construction of a finite element model of the proximal femur including the IT and measuring the femoral neck angle under variation. The hip joints and IT in a total of 18 unfixed corpses were evaluated. We studied the anatomic relationship to surrounding structures, as well as the material properties with the help of tensile strength testing utilizing an uniaxial apparatus. During the test, a load-displacement curve was registered, documenting the maximum load and deformation of the IT. To measure the subligamentous pressure at the height of the greater trochanter, a custom-made sensor with a power-recording instrument was constructed. Furthermore, an altered hip prosthesis with a pressure gauge at the height of the femoral neck was used to measure the forces which are directed at the acetabulum. The investigations were done in neutral-0 position and ab/adduction of the hip joint of the unfixed corpse. In addition, we varied the femoral neck angle between 115 degrees and 155 degrees in 5 degrees steps. To confirm the subligamentous forces, we did the same measurements intraoperatively at the height of the greater trochanter before and after hip joint replacement in 12 patients. We constructed a finite element model of the proximal femur and considering the IT. The acquisition of the data was done at physiological (128 degrees), varus (115 degrees), and valgus (155 degrees) femoral neck angles. The influencing forces of the IT at the height of the greater trochanter and the forces at the femoral head or the acetabulum could be measured. Our anatomical investigations revealed a splitting of the IT into a superficial and a deep portion, which covers the tensor fasciae latae. The tensor fasciae latae has an insertion on the IT. The IT continues down the femur, passing over the greater trochanter without developing an actual fixation to the bone. Part of the insertion of the gluteus maximus radiates into the IT. The IT passes over the vastus lateralis and inserts at the infracondylar tubercle of the tibia or Gerdy's tubercle, at the head of the fibula, as well as at the lateral intermuscular septum. Portions also insert on the transverse and longitudinal retinaculum of the patella. Concerning the material properties of the IT, we found a structural stiffness of 17 N/mm extension on average (D = 17 N/mm). The subligamentous measurements at the height of the greater trochanter in the unfixed corpse and intraoperatively during hip joint replacement showed an increase of the forces during adduction and a decrease during abduction of the hip joint. We found thereby a maximum increase up to 106 N with 40 degrees adduction. Concerning the femoral neck angle, we can state that valgus leads to lower subligamentous forces and varus to higher subligamentous forces. The forces directed at the acetabulum, which were measured by the prosthesis with a sensor along the femoral neck, showed a decrease with varus angles and an increase with valgus angles. The highest force of 624 N was measured with 40 degrees adduction and an angle of 155 degrees. The finite element model of the proximal femur showed a sole hip joint-centralizing force of the IT of 655 N with a femoral neck angle of 128 degrees after subtraction of the gluteal muscle force and the body weight. At 115 degrees, we found an increase up to 997 N and a decrease to 438 N at 155 degrees. Concerning the resulting forces in the acetabulum, we found opposite forces in comparison with the force of the IT at the height of the greater trochanter: at 115 degrees, a femoral head-centralizing force of 1601 N; at 128 degrees, 2360 N; and at 155 degrees, 2422 N. By our investigations, we can approximately prove the hip joint-centralizing force of the IT. By variation of the femoral neck angle and the position of the hip joint, we can predict the subligamentous force of the IT and the resulting force at the femoral head or at the acetabulum. The intraoperative measurement of the subligamentous forces of the IT is a good monitoring mechanism for the persistent hip-centralizing function of the IT in the course of hip joint replacement. The surgeon has the opportunity to check the stability of the hip joint after replacement. The finite element model gives the opportunity to check the divergent relative strength by variation of the femoral neck angle and the tension of the IT. In this way, the changes in the forces induced by a displacement osteotomy could be estimated preoperatively.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cadaver
  • Compressive Strength
  • Female
  • Femur Head / blood supply
  • Hip Joint / blood supply*
  • Hip Joint / surgery
  • Hip Prosthesis*
  • Humans
  • Iliac Artery / anatomy & histology*
  • Iliac Artery / surgery
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Stress, Mechanical
  • Tibial Arteries / anatomy & histology*
  • Tibial Arteries / surgery