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Background: The skeleton plays a critical structural role in bearing functional loads, and failure to do so results in fracture. As we evaluate new therapeutics and consider treatments to prevent skeletal fractures, understanding the basic mechanics underlying whole bone testing and the key principles and characteristics contributing to the structural strength of a bone is critical.

Questions/purposes: We therefore asked: (1) How are whole bone mechanical tests performed and what are the key outcomes measured? (2) How do the intrinsic characteristics of bone tissue contribute to the mechanical properties of a whole bone? (3) What are the effects of extrinsic characteristics on whole bone mechanical behavior? (4) Do environmental factors affect whole bone mechanical properties?

Methods: We conducted a PubMed search using specific search terms and limiting our included articles to those related to in vitro testing of whole bones. Basic solid mechanics concepts are summarized in the context of whole bone testing and the determinants of whole bone behavior.

Results: Whole bone mechanical tests measure structural stiffness and strength from load-deformation data. Whole bone stiffness and strength are a function of total bone mass and the tissue geometric distribution and material properties. Age, sex, genetics, diet, and activity contribute to bone structural performance and affect the incidence of skeletal fractures.

Conclusions: Understanding and preventing skeletal fractures is clinically important. Laboratory tests of whole bone strength are currently the only measures for in vivo fracture prediction. In the future, combined imaging and engineering models may be able to predict whole bone strength noninvasively.

(C) 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins LWW