Bone mechanical properties are strongly dependent on orientation and optimally adapted to the directional stresses induced by load bearing and muscular activity. Spatial and directional homogeneity and a slow rate of change of material mechanical properties are commonly assumed in the literature. The assumptions are based on limitations of widespread diagnostic techniques but are contradicted by results from several established techniques, including ultrasound reflectometry.
A device based on the ultrasound reflectometry technique measures the mechanical elasticity of bone noninvasively at multiple sites and orientations, making it possible to carry out longitudinal studies at any chosen location in vivo. In vivo elastometric measurements over the length of a tibia were obtained with this device, demonstrating quantitatively for the first time the spatial and directional heterogeneity of bone material properties in vivo. Clinical observations made on two subjects also suggest that bone does exhibit rapid changes in response to altered activity levels.