When a bending moment exists in a structural element it induces tensile stresses and compressive stresses in the element. Tensile stresses and compressive stresses increase proportionally with bending moment, but are also dependent on the second moment of area of the cross-section of the structural element. Failure in bending will occur when the bending moment is sufficient to induce tensile stresses greater than the yield stress of the material. It is possible that failure of a structural element in shear may occur before failure in bending, however the mechanics of failure in shear and in bending are different.
The bending moment at a section through a structural element may be defined as "the sum of the moments about that section of all external forces acting to one side of that section". The forces and moments on either side of the section must be equal in order to counteract each other and maintain a state of equilibrium so the same bending moment will result from summing the moments, regardless of which side of the section is selected.
Moments are calculated by multiplying the external vector forces (loads or reactions) by the vector distance at which they are applied. When analysing an entire element, it is sensible to calculate moments at both ends of the element, at the beginning, centre and end of any uniformly distributed loads, and directly underneath any point loads. Of course any "pin-joints" within a structure allow free rotation, and so zero moment occurs at these points as there is no way of transmitting turning forces from one side to the other.
If clockwise bending moments are taken as negative, then a negative bending moment within an element will cause "sagging", and a positive moment will cause "hogging". It is therefore clear that a point of zero bending moment within a beam is a point of contraflexure—that is the point of transition from hogging to sagging or vice versa.
Critical values within the beam are most commonly annotated using a bending moment diagram, where negative moments are plotted to scale above a horizontal line and positive below. Bending moment varies linearly over unloaded sections, and parabolically over uniformly loaded sections.
To resist higher bending moment, the beam shall be deeper.