Bone mineral density is directly proportional to compressive strength, which affords an opportunity to estimate in vivo joint load history from the subchondral cortical plate of articular surfaces in isolated skeletal elements. Subchondral bone experiencing greater compressive loads should be of relatively greater density than subchondral bone experiencing less compressive loading. Distribution of the densest areas, either concentrated or diffuse, also may be influenced by the extent of habitual compressive loading. We evaluated subchondral bone in the distal radius of several primates whose locomotion could be characterized in one of three general ways (quadrupedal, suspensory or bipedal), each exemplifying a different manner of habitual forelimb loading (i.e. compression, tension or non-weight-bearing, respectively). We employed computed tomography osteoabsorptiometry (CT-OAM) to acquire optical densities from which false-colour maps were constructed. The false-colour maps were used to evaluate patterns in subchondral density (i.e. apparent density). Suspensory apes and bipedal humans had both smaller percentage areas and less well-defined concentrations of regions of high apparent density relative to quadrupedal primates. Quadrupedal primates exhibited a positive allometric effect of articular surface size on high-density area, whereas suspensory primates exhibited an isometric effect and bipedal humans exhibited no significant relationship between the two. A significant difference between groups characterized by predominantly compressive forelimb loading regimes vs. tensile or non-weight-bearing regimes indicates that subchondral apparent density in the distal radial articular surface distinguishes modes of habitually supporting of body mass.