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A novel experimental design for the measurement of metacarpal bone loading and deformation and fingertip force

Lu, Szu-Ching and Vereecke, Evie E. and Synek, Alexander and Pahr, Dieter H. and Kivell, Tracy L. (2018) A novel experimental design for the measurement of metacarpal bone loading and deformation and fingertip force. PeerJ, 6. ISSN 2167-8359

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Abstract

Background -- Musculoskeletal and finite element modelling are often used to predict joint loading and bone strength within the human hand, but there is a lack of in vitro evidence of the force and strain experienced by hand bones. Methods -- This study presents a novel experimental setup that allows the positioning of a cadaveric digit in a variety of postures with the measurement of force and strain experienced by the third metacarpal. The setup allows for the measurement of fingertip force as well. We tested this experimental setup using three cadaveric human third digits in which the flexor tendons were loaded in two tendon pathways: (1) parallel to the metacarpal bone shaft, with bowstringing; (2) a semi-physiological condition in which the tendons were positioned closer to the bone shaft. Results -- There is substantial variation in metacarpal net force, metacarpal strain and fingertip force between the two tendon pathways. The net force acting on the metacarpal bone is oriented palmarly in the parallel tendon condition, causing tension along the dorsum of the metacarpal shaft, while the force increases and is oriented dorsally in the semi-physiological condition, causing compression of the dorsal metacarpal shaft. Fingertip force is also greater in the semi-physiological condition, implying a more efficient grip function. Inter-individual variation is observed in the radioulnar orientation of the force experienced by the metacarpal bone, the fingertip force, and the strain patterns on the metacarpal shaft. Conclusion -- This study demonstrates a new method for measuring force and strain experienced by the metacarpal, and fingertip force in cadaveric digits that can, in turn, inform computation models. Inter-individual variation in loads experienced by the third digit suggest that there are differences in joint contact and/or internal bone structure across individuals that are important to consider in clinical and evolutionary contexts.