Fracture toughness of human bone under tension

T. L. Norman, D. Vashishth, D. B. Burr

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179 Scopus citations


The longitudinal fracture toughnesses of human cortical bone were compared to those of bovine cortical bone to test the hypothesis that although human osteonal bone is significantly weaker and more compliant than primary (plexiform) bone, it is not less tough than primary bone. The fracture toughness indices, critical strain energy release rate (Gc) and critical stress intensity factor (Kc), were determined for human Haversian bone and bovine bone under tension (Mode I) loading using the compact tension method. The effects of thickness, crack growth range and anisotropy on fracture indices for slow stable crack growth in cortical bone were determined. Plane strain assumptions required for application of linear elastic fracture mechanics (LEFM) to bone were investigated. Longitudinal oriented fracture toughness tests were used to assess the crack inhibiting effect of human bone microstructure on frature resistance. Human bone Kc calculated from the stress concentration formula for 2 and 3 mm thick specimens equaled 4.32 and 4.05 MN m -3 2, respectively. Human bone Gc calculated from the compliance method equaled 827 Nm-1 for 2 mm thick specimens and 595 Nm-1 for 3 mm thick specimens. It was found that crack growth range, thickness and material assumptions affect fracture toughness. Kc calculated from Gc using an anisotropic relation provided the lowest estimate of Kc and equaled 3.31 MN m -3 2 for 2 mm thick specimens and 2.81 MN m -3 2 for 3 mm thick specimens. Both Kc and Gc were significantly reduced after being adjusted to ASTM standard thickness using ratios determined from bovine bone. The fracture toughness of bovine bone relative to human bone ranged from 1.08 to 1.66. This was compared to the longitudinal strength of bovine bone relative to the longitudinal strength of human bone which is approximately equal to 1.5. We found that even though human bone is significantly weaker than bovine bone, relative to its strength, the toughness of human and bovine bone are roughly similar, but the data were not sufficiently definitive to answer the question of which is tougher.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)309-311,313-320
JournalJournal of Biomechanics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1995


  • bovine bone
  • crack propagation
  • fracture mechanics
  • Fracture toughness
  • human bone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Rehabilitation

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    Norman, T. L., Vashishth, D., & Burr, D. B. (1995). Fracture toughness of human bone under tension. Journal of Biomechanics, 28(3), 309-311,313-320.