Temperature effects in articular cartilage biomechanics

Ronald K. June, David P Fyhrie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Articular cartilage is the soft tissue that covers contacting surfaces of bones in synovial joints. Cartilage is composed of chondrocytes and an extracellular matrix containing numerous biopolymers, cations and water. Healthy cartilage functions biomechanically to provide smooth and stable joint movement. Degenerative joint diseases such as osteoarthritis involve cartilage deterioration, resulting in painful and cumbersome joint motion. Temperature is a fundamental quantity in mechanics, yet the effects of temperature on cartilage mechanical behavior are unknown. This study addressed the questions of whether cartilage stiffness and stress relaxation change with temperature. Samples of middle-zone bovine calf patellofemoral cartilage were tested in unconfined compression first at 24°C and then again after heating to 60°C. The data reveal that when temperature increases: (1) both peak and equilibrium stiffness increase by 150 and 8%, respectively, and (2) stress relaxation is faster at higher temperature, as shown by a 60% decrease in the time constant. The increases in temperature-dependent stiffness are consistent with polymeric mechanisms of matrix viscoelasticity but not with interstitial fluid flow. The changes in the time constant are consistent with a combination of both fluid flow and matrix viscoelasticity. Furthermore, we discovered a novel phenomenon: at stress-relaxation equilibrium, compressive stress increased with temperature. These data demonstrate a rich area of cartilage mechanics that has previously been unexplored and emphasize the role of polymer dynamics in cartilage viscoelasticity. Further studies of cartilage polymer dynamics may yield additional insight into mechanisms of cartilage material behavior that could improve treatments for cartilage degeneration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3934-3940
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 2010


  • Cartilage
  • Cartilage mechanics
  • Flow-independent viscoelasticity
  • Matrix viscoelasticity
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Polymer dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Physiology
  • Insect Science
  • Aquatic Science


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