The true toughness of human cortical bone measured with realistically short cracks

Nat Mater. 2008 Aug;7(8):672-7. doi: 10.1038/nmat2221. Epub 2008 Jun 29.


Bone is more difficult to break than to split. Although this is well known, and many studies exist on the behaviour of long cracks in bone, there is a need for data on the orientation-dependent crack-growth resistance behaviour of human cortical bone that accurately assesses its toughness at appropriate size scales. Here, we use in situ mechanical testing to examine how physiologically pertinent short (<600 microm) cracks propagate in both the transverse and longitudinal orientations in cortical bone, using both crack-deflection/twist mechanics and nonlinear-elastic fracture mechanics to determine crack-resistance curves. We find that after only 500 microm of cracking, the driving force for crack propagation was more than five times higher in the transverse (breaking) direction than in the longitudinal (splitting) direction owing to major crack deflections/twists, principally at cement sheaths. Indeed, our results show that the true transverse toughness of cortical bone is far higher than previously reported. However, the toughness in the longitudinal orientation, where cracks tend to follow the cement lines, is quite low at these small crack sizes; it is only when cracks become several millimetres in length that bridging mechanisms can fully develop leading to the (larger-crack) toughnesses generally quoted for bone.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Computer Simulation
  • Elasticity
  • Femoral Fractures / pathology*
  • Femoral Fractures / physiopathology*
  • Femur / physiopathology*
  • Femur / ultrastructure*
  • Hardness
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological*