Age trends in proximal femur stresses were evaluated by simulating a fall on the greater trochanter using femur geometry from hip DXA scans of 5334 white men and women in the NHANES III survey. Expansion of femur outer diameter seems to counter net bone loss so that stresses remain similar across age groups, but stresses are higher in older women than in older men.
Introduction: The age decline in hip BMD is caused by both bone loss and expansion of outer diameter that increases the region size over which mass is measured in a DXA scan. Because expansion has an opposing effect on structural strength, it may be a homeostatic adaptation to net bone loss to ensure that load stresses are kept within a narrow range.
Materials and Methods: Age trends in femur stresses were evaluated with an engineering beam simulation of a fall on the greater trochanter. Hip geometry was extracted from hip DXA scans using the Hip Structure Analysis (HSA) software on 2613 non-Hispanic white men and 2721 women from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III). Using body weight as load, stresses were computed on the inferior-medial and superior-lateral femur neck at its narrowest point and the medial and lateral shaft 2 cm distal to the midpoint of the lesser trochanter. Stresses and the underlying geometries in men and women >50 years oaf age were compared with those 20–49 years of age.
Results: Compared with men <50 years of age, stresses in older men were 6% lower on both surfaces of the shaft, 4% lower on the inferior-medial neck, and not different on the superior-lateral neck. In women >50 years of age, stresses on the proximal shaft and inferior-medial neck remained within 3% of young values but were 13% greater on the superior-lateral neck. Neck stresses in young women were lower on the superior-lateral than the inferior-medial neck, but lateral stress increased to the level on the medial surface in older women. Stresses were higher in women than in men, with a greater gender difference in those >50 years of age.
Conclusions: We conclude that femur expansion has a homeostatic effect in men and women that opposes bone loss so that stresses change little with age. Because expansion preserves stresses with progressively less bone mass, the process may reduce structural stability in the femoral neck under fall conditions, especially in the elderly female.