Characterizing Microcrack Orientation Distribution Functions in Osteonal Bone Samples

Uwe Wolfram, Jakob Schwiedrzik, Mohammad J. Mirzaali, Alexander Bürki, Peter Varga, Cécile Olivier, Françoise Peyrin, Philippe K. Zysset

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)
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Prefailure microdamage in bone tissue is considered to be the most detrimental factor in defining its strength and toughness with respect to age and disease. To understand the influence of microcracks on bone mechanics it is necessary to assess their morphology and three-dimensional distribution. This requirement reaches beyond classic histology and stereology, and methods to obtain such information are currently missing. Therefore, the aim of the study was to develop a methodology that allows to characterize three-dimensional microcrack distributions in bulk bone samples. Four dumbbell-shaped specimens of human cortical bone of a 77-year-old female donor were loaded beyond yield in either tension, compression or torsion (one control). Subsequently, synchrotron radiation micro-computed tomography (SRμCT) was used to obtain phase-contrast images of the damaged samples. A microcrack segmentation algorithm was developed and used to segment microcrack families for which microcrack orientation distribution functions were determined. Distinct microcrack families were observed for each load case that resulted in distinct orientation distribution functions. Microcracks had median areas of approximately 4.7 μm2, 33.3 μm2 and 64.0 μm2 for tension, compression and torsion. Verifying the segmentation algorithm against a manually segmented ground truth showed good results when comparing the microcrack orientation distribution functions. A size dependence was noted when investigating the orientation distribution functions with respect to the size of the volume of interest used for their determination. Furthermore, a scale separation between tensile, compressive and torsional microcracks was noticeable. Visual comparison to classic histology indicated that microcrack families were successfully distinguished. We propose a methodology to analyse three-dimensional microcrack distributions in overloaded cortical bone. Such information could improve our understanding of bone microdamage and its impact on bone failure in relation to tissue age and disease.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)268-281
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Microscopy
Issue number3
Early online date15 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016


  • cortical bone
  • microdamage
  • microcrack segmentation
  • X-ray phase micro-tomography
  • synchrotron radiation
  • orientation distribution function


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