Eckstein, Felix and Löhe, F. and Schulte, Erik and Müller-Gerbl, Magdalena and Milz, S. and Putz, Reinhard
Physiological incongruity of the humero-ulnar joint. A functional principle of optimized stress distribution acting upon articulating surfaces?
In: Anatomy and embryology, Vol. 188, No. 5: pp. 449-455
Investigations into the distribution of subchondral bone density in the human elbow have suggested that the geometry of the trochlear notch deviates from a perfect fit with the trochlea, and that the load is transmitted ventrally and dorsally rather than through the centre of the humero-ulnar joint. We therefore decided to make a quantitative assessment of the degree of incongruity between the two components in 15 human specimens (age distribution 60 to 93 years) with different types of joint surface. Polyether casts of the joint cavity were prepared under loads of 10,40,160 and 640 N. The thickness of the casts was then measured at 50 predetermined points, and an area distribution of the width of the joint space represented in a two-dimensional template of the trochlear notch. The reproducibility of this procedure was tested by image analysis. At a load of 10 N, only a narrow space was present ventrally and dorsally in the joint, but in the depths of the trochlear notch a width of 0.5 to 1 mm was recorded in the centre, and up to 3 mm at its medial and lateral edges. Specimens with continuous articular cartilage showed a lower degree of incongruity than those with a divided articular surface. As the load was increased to 640 N, however, the original incongruity between the articular surfaces disappeared almost completely. The joint surfaces became more congruous, probably because of the viscoelastic properties of the articular cartilage and the subchondral bone, and the contact areas merged in the centre of the joint. It is suggested that this physiological incongruity brings about an optimal distribution of stress over the articular surface during the transmission of the load, and it may lead to better nourishment of the articular cartilage by providing intermittent mechanical stimulation and circulation of the synovial fluid.