Calcified Tissue International

, Volume 53, Supplement 1, pp S151–S156

Clinical determination of bone quality: Is ultrasound an answer?

  • Gary H. Brandenburger
Session VII

DOI: 10.1007/BF01673427

Cite this article as:
Brandenburger, G.H. Calcif Tissue Int (1993) 53(Suppl 1): S151. doi:10.1007/BF01673427


Progress in clinical characterization of bone relies on developing a means to clinically assessall of the important determinants of bone quality, specifically, the intrinsic material properties of a bone (stiffness and brittleness) versus the macroscopic structural properties [apparent mass density (g/cc), structural shape and distribution of cortical mass, trabecular architecture, extent of unrepaired microdamage, and defects associated with the accelerated remodeling in early menopause]. Ultrasound devices currently measure parameters related to either of only two basic properties: bone ultrasound attenuation (BUA) or the apparent velocity of wave propagation (AVU). Theory and repeated corroboration in the laboratory have shown that the velocity of sound in solids such as bone has a quantitative relationship to the elastic modulus (or stiffness) and mass density. Although no comparable physical model exists for BUA, growingin vitro andin vivo empirical evidence shows a relationship to stiffness and mass density as well. Therefore, the question of ultrasound's ability to provide additional, clinically useful information about bone quality reduces to this:Does bone quality depend significantly on bone stiffness and does stiffness depend on factors other than bone mass alone? Clinical study results provide mounting evidence of ultrasound's abilities. (1) Numerous studies compare either velocity or BUA with BMC or BMD. The correlation coefficients vary widely between studies, even when repeated by the same investigators and laboratories. Two studies demonstrated this by comparing groups of subjects who are indistinguishable by BMD at the lumbar spine, but whose mean AVU readings are significantly different. (2) Multiple studies of AVU and BUA by different investigators have shown the ability of ultrasound to distinguish, as effectively as BMC or BMD, women with osteoporotic vertebral crush deformities from normal women. Prospective studies have shown that AVU and BUA each indicated risk of future osteoporotic fractures. In a population-based, randomized, cross-sectional study of men and women, AVU discriminated between groups of subjects who had suffered low trauma fractures versus those free of fracture. Such repeated clinical evidence of the ability of BUA and AVU to detect bone fragility provides mounting evidence that ultrasound measures a clinically relevant property of bone quality in addition to and distinct from bone mass.

Key words

Ultrasound Bone fragility Osteoporosis Fracture 



Apparent velocity of ultrasound transmission (meters/second) measured at the patella over the frequency range of 150–300 KHz [5, 6]


Bone mineral content, expressed in grams, obtained from a bone densitometer without normalizing for the area or volume over which the measurement was made


BMC obtained by normalizing for width (grams/cm), area (grams/cm2) or volume (grams/cc) over which the measurement was made


Bone ultrasound attenuation (decibels/megahertz [db/MHz]) is the amount of ultrasound intensity lost during transmission through bone, derived from the slope of the approximately linear dependence of the attenuation coefficient on frequencies between 300 and 600 KHz [7, 8]


Dual photon absorptiometry measurement of BMC or areal BMD based on attenuation of X-rays emitted by a radioactive isotope at two different energy levels


Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry measurement of BMC or areal BMD based on attenuation of X-rays produced by an X-ray tube, measured at two different energy levels


Single photon absorptiometry measurement of BMC or grams/cm based on attenuation of X-rays emitted by a radioactive isotope at a single energy level


Quantitative X-ray computed tomography measurement of BMC or volumetric BMD over a user-specifiable region of interest

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gary H. Brandenburger
    • 1
  1. 1.Mallinckrodt Madical, Inc.St. LouisUSA

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