On foundations of discrete element analysis of contact in diarthrodial joints

K. Y. Volokh, E. Y.S. Chao, M. Armand

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Information about the stress distribution on contact surfaces of adjacent bones is indispensable for analysis of arthritis, bone fracture and remodeling. Numerical solution of the contact problem based on the classical approaches of solid mechanics is sophisticated and time-consuming. However, the solution can be essentially simplified on the following physical grounds. The bone contact surfaces are covered with a layer of articular cartilage, which is a soft tissue as compared to the hard bone. The latter allows ignoring the bone compliance in analysis of the contact problem, i.e. rigid bones are considered to interact through a compliant cartilage. Moreover, cartilage shear stresses and strains can be ignored because of the negligible friction between contacting cartilage layers. Thus, the cartilage can be approximated by a set of unilateral compressive springs normal to the bone surface. The forces in the springs can be computed from the equilibrium equations iteratively accounting for the changing contact area. This is the essence of the discrete element analysis (DEA). Despite the success in applications of DEA to various bone contact problems, its classical formulation required experimental validation because the springs approximating the cartilage were assumed linear while the real articular cartilage exhibited non-linear mechanical response in reported tests. Recent experimental results of Ateshian and his co-workers allow for revisiting the classical DEA formulation and establishing the limits of its applicability. In the present work, it is shown that the linear spring model is remarkably valid within a wide range of large deformations of the cartilage. It is also shown how to extend the classical DEA to the case of strong nonlinearity if necessary.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-73
Number of pages7
JournalMCB Molecular and Cellular Biomechanics
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Bone
  • Cartilage
  • Contact
  • Non-linear analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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