Diurnal variations in articular cartilage thickness and strain in the human knee

Jeremy L. Coleman, Margaret R. Widmyer, Holly A. Leddy, Gangadhar M. Utturkar, Charles E. Spritzer, Claude T. Moorman, Farshid Guilak, Louis E. DeFrate

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Due to the biphasic viscoelastic nature of cartilage, joint loading may result in deformations that require times on the order of hours to fully recover. Thus, cartilaginous tissues may exhibit cumulative strain over the course of each day. The goal of this study was to assess the magnitude and spatial distribution of strain in the articular cartilage of the knee with daily activity. Magnetic resonance (MR) images of 10 asymptomatic subjects (six males and four females) with mean age of 29 years were obtained at 8:00 AM and 4:00 PM on the same day using a 3T magnet. These images were used to create 3D models of the femur, tibia, and patella from which cartilage thickness distributions were quantified. Cartilage thickness generally decreased from AM to PM in all areas except the patellofemoral groove and was associated with significant compressive strains in the medial condyle and tibial plateau. From AM to PM, cartilage of the medial tibial plateau exhibited a compressive strain of -5.1±1.0% (mean±SEM) averaged over all locations, while strains in the lateral plateau were slightly lower (-3.1±0.6%). Femoral cartilage showed an average strain of -1.9±0.6%. The findings of this study show that human knee cartilage undergoes diurnal changes in strain that vary with site in the joint. Since abnormal joint loading can be detrimental to cartilage homeostasis, these data provide a baseline for future studies investigating the effects of altered biomechanics on diurnal cartilage strains and cartilage physiology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)541-547
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Biomechanics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 2013


  • Biomechanics
  • Cartilage deformation
  • Magnetic resonance imaging


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