Cartilage is considered a biphasic material in which the solid is composed of proteoglycans and collagen. In biphasic tissue, the hydraulic pressure is believed to bear most of the load under higher strain rates and its dissipation due to fluid flow determines creep and relaxation behavior. In equilibrium, hydraulic pressure is zero and load bearing is transferred to the solid matrix. The viscoelasticity of the collagen network also contributes to its time-dependent behavior, and the osmotic pressure to load bearing in equilibrium. The aim of the present study was to determine the relative contributions of hydraulic pressure, viscoelastic collagen stress, solid matrix stiffness and osmotic pressure to load carriage in cartilage under transient and equilibrium conditions. Unconfined compression experiments were simulated using a fibril-reinforced poroviscoelastic model of articular cartilage, including water, fibrillar viscoelastic collagen and non-fibrillar charged glycosaminoglycans. The relative contributions of hydraulic and osmotic pressures and stresses in the fibrillar and non-fibrillar network were evaluated in the superficial, middle and deep zone of cartilage under five different strain rates and after relaxation. Initially upon loading, the hydraulic pressure carried most of the load in all three zones. The osmotic swelling pressure carried most of the equilibrium load. In the surface zone, where the fibers were loaded in tension, the collagen network carried 20 % of the load for all strain rates. The importance of these fibers was illustrated by artificially modifying the fiber architecture, which reduced the overall stiffness of cartilage in all conditions. In conclusion, although hydraulic pressure dominates the transient behavior during cartilage loading, due to its viscoelastic nature the superficial zone collagen fibers carry a substantial part of the load under transient conditions. This becomes increasingly important with higher strain rates. The interesting and striking new insight from this study suggests that under equilibrium conditions, the swelling pressure generated by the combination of proteoglycans and collagen reinforcement accounts cartilage stiffness for more than 90 % of the loads carried by articular cartilage. This finding is different from the common thought that load is transferred from fluid to solid and is carried by the aggregate modulus of the solid. Rather, it is transformed from hydraulic to osmotic swelling pressure. These results show the importance of considering both (viscoelastic) collagen fibers as well as swelling pressure in studies of the (transient) mechanical behavior of cartilage.
- Cartilage, Articular/metabolism
- Models, Biological
- Stress, Mechanical