The stress distribution in the region of contact between a layered elastic sphere and a layered elastic cavity is determined using an analytical model to simulate contact of articulating joints. The purpose is to use the solution to analyze the effects of cartilage thickness and stiffness, bone stiffness and joint curvature on the resulting stress field, and investigate the possibility of cracking of the material due to tensile and shear stresses. Vertical cracking of cartilage as well as horizontal splitting at the cartilage-calcified cartilage interface has been observed in osteoarthritic joints. The current results indicate that for a given system (material properties μ and v constant), the stress distribution is a function of the ratio of contact radius to layer thickness (a/h), and while tensile stresses are seen to occur only when a/h is small, tensile strain is observed for all a/h values. Significant shear stresses are observed at the cartilage-bone interface. Softening of cartilage results in an increase in a/h, and a decrease in maximum normal stress. Cartilage thinning increases a/h and the maximum contact stress, while thickening has the opposite effect. A reduction in the indenting radius reduces a/h and increases the maximum normal stress. Bone softening is seen to have negligible effect on the resulting contact parameters and stress distribution. © 1990 by ASME.