Over the last thirty years, it has become increasingly clear the amount of bone (e.g. ‘bone quantity’) and the quality of the bone matrix (e.g. ‘bone quality’) both critically contribute to bone’s tissue-level mechanical behavior and the subsequent ability of bone to resist fracture. Although determining the tissue-level mechanical behavior of bone through mechanical testing is relatively straightforward in the laboratory, the destructive nature of such testing is unfeasible in humans and in animal models requiring longitudinal observation. Therefore, surrogate measurements are necessary for quantifying tissue-level mechanical behavior for the pre-clinical and clinical evaluation of bone strength and fracture risk in vivo. A specific implementation of indentation known as reference point indentation (RPI) enables the mechanical testing of bone tissue without the need to excise and prepare the bone surface. However, this compromises the ability to carefully control the specimen geometry that is required to define the bone tissue material properties. Yet the versatility of such measurements in clinical populations is provocative, and to date there are a number of promising studies that have utilized this tool to discern bone pathologies and to monitor the effects of therapeutics on bone quality. Concurrently, on-going efforts continue to investigate the aspects of bone material behavior measured by RPI, and the compositional factors that contribute to these measurements. There are currently two variants, cyclic- and impact- RPI, that have been utilized in pre-clinical and clinical studies. This review surveys clinical studies that utilize RPI, with particular emphasis on the clinical instrument, as well as the endeavors to understand the fundamental mechanisms of such measurements. Ultimately, an improved awareness in the tradeoffs and limitations of in vivo RPI is critical towards the effective and successful utilization of this tool for the overall improvement of fragility determination in the clinic.
Keywords: Biodent; Bone strength; Osteoprobe; bone quality; fracture risk; reference point indentation.