Densitometrically, the skeleton is currently conceived as 'a systemically regulated mass of mineralized material that is born, grows, reaches a more or less high peak, and then declines faster or slower as to develop a correspondingly high or low fracture risk'. Alternatively, from a biomechanical point of view, the skeleton can be conceived as 'a biomechanically-regulated structure that can be systemically disturbed (in the cybernetic sense), the strength of which depends on the intrinsic stiffness (material properties) and the spatial distribution (architectural properties) of the mineralized tissue'. The biomechanical feedback system involved (bone 'mechanostat') would not control bone mass to optimize bone strength; it would rather control bone material quality and architecture (through a modulation of bone modeling and remodeling) in order to optimize bone stiffness. The natural stimuli for the bone mechanostat would be the customary strains of bone tissue (sensed by osteocytes) that are induced by gravitational forces and, more importantly, the contractions of regional muscles. According to this view, the development of any bone-weakening disease should be related to either (1) an intrinsic illness of the system (primary disturbances of bone cells), (2) a lack of mechanical stimulation (disuse-induced bone losses), or (3) a systemically-induced shift of the system's setpoint (systemic or secondary bone diseases). This short review aims to conciliate those views: (1) taking profit of the diagnostic possibilities provided by densitometric bone 'mass' determinations; (2) proposing other resources to assess bone mechanical properties; and (3) analyzing the muscle-bone interactions. These are crucial for achieving a differential diagnosis between disuse and primary or secondary bone disturbances, based either (1) on the densitometric determination of bone and muscle masses that would provide an anthropometric diagnosis of osteopenia (not osteoporosis because no extrapolations to bone strength can be made this way) or (2) on the cross-sectional analyses of bone structure or strength and muscle strength provided by bone tomography, magnetic resonance or other techniques that could afford a diagnosis of osteoporosis according to biomechanical criteria. © 2003 Published by Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd.
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