Compression or tension? The stress distribution in the proximal femur
BioMedical Engineering OnLine
© Rudman et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2006. This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
BACKGROUND: Questions regarding the distribution of stress in the proximal human femur have never been adequately resolved. Traditionally, by considering the femur in isolation, it has been believed that the effect of body weight on the projecting neck and head places the superior aspect of the neck in tension. A minority view has proposed that this region is in compression because of muscular forces pulling the femur into the pelvis. Little has been done to study stress distributions in the proximal femur. We hypothesise that under physiological loading the majority of the proximal femur is in compression and that the internal trabecular structure functions as an arch, transferring compressive stresses to the femoral shaft. METHODS: To demonstrate the principle, we have developed a 2D finite element model of the femur in which body weight, a representation of the pelvis, and ligamentous forces were included. The regions of higher trabecular bone density in the proximal femur (the principal trabecular systems) were assigned a higher modulus than the surrounding trabecular bone. Two-legged and one-legged stances, the latter including an abductor force, were investigated. RESULTS: The inclusion of ligamentous forces in two-legged stance generated compressive stresses in the proximal femur. The increased modulus in areas of greater structural density focuses the stresses through the arch-like internal structure. Including an abductor muscle force in simulated one-legged stance also produced compression, but with a different distribution. CONCLUSION: This 2D model shows, in principle, that including ligamentous and muscular forces has the effect of generating compressive stresses across most of the proximal femur. The arch-like trabecular structure transmits the compressive loads to the shaft. The greater strength of bone in compression than in tension is then used to advantage. These results support the hypothesis presented. If correct, a better understanding of the stress distribution in the proximal femur may lead to improvements in prosthetic devices and an appreciation of the effects of various surgical procedures affecting load transmission across the hip.
We thank the Arthritis Research Campaign for financial support (Grant reference 15284) and Dr J.S. Gregory for providing the mean shape of the proximal femur.
This is the final version of the article. Available from BioMed Central via the DOI in this record.
Vol. 5, article 12
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