Non-linear strain predictions for bone screw fixation for developing a surgical decision aid

Katarzyna Polak-Krasna, Alisdair MacLeod, James Fletcher, Michael Whitehouse, Ezio Preatoni, Harinderjit Gill

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


The screw fastening torque applied during bone fracture fixation has a decisive influence on subsequent bone healing. Insufficient screw tightness can result in device/construct instability; conversely, excessive torques risk damaging the bone causing premature fixation failure. This effect is even more prominent in osteoporotic bone, a condition associated annually with almost 9 million fractures worldwide. During fracture fixation, screw tightening torque is applied using subjective feel. This approach may not be optimal for patient"s recovery, increasing risk of fixation failure, particularly in osteoporotic bone, and potentially require revision surgical interventions.

Besides bone density, various factors influence the performance of screw fixation. These factors include bone geometry, cortical thickness and time-dependant relaxation behaviour of the bone. If the influence of screw fastening torque on the bone and relationships between these factors was better understood, the surgical technique could be optimised to reduce the risk of complications.

Within this study, we developed an axisymmetric finite element (FE) model of bone screw tightening incorporating viscoelastic behaviour of the cortical bone such as creep and stress relaxation. The model anticipated time-dependent behaviour of the bone for different bone thickness and density after a typical bone fixation screw had been inserted. The idealised model has been developed based on CT scans of bones with varying densities and inserted screws. The model was validated through a series of experiments involving bovine tibiae (4-5 months) to evaluate the evolution of surface strains with time (Ncorr v1.2). Stress distribution was assessed in photoelastic experiments using acrylic analogues. Relaxation tests have been performed in aqueous environment for up to 48 hours to ensure the relaxation would be complete. The creep behaviour (maximum principal strain) was compared against computational predictions. Our early simulations predicted relaxation strains on the surface of the bone to be 1.1% within 24 hours comparing favourably to 1.3% measured experimentally. Stress distribution patterns were in agreement with photoelastic results.

Using experimentally derived viscoelastic properties, the model has the potential to predict creep and stress relaxation patterns after screw insertion with different fastening torques for bones with varying density and geometry. We aim to develop this into a planning tool providing guidance to surgeons for optimal tightening when using screw fixation, particularly in reduced quality bone.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2017
Event25th Annual Meeting of the European Orthopaedic Research Society - Munich, Germany
Duration: 13 Sept 201715 Sept 2017


Conference25th Annual Meeting of the European Orthopaedic Research Society
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