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Crit Rev Biomed Eng. 1992;20(3-4):279-313.

Finite element methods for the biomechanics of soft hydrated tissues: nonlinear analysis and adaptive control of meshes.

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  • 1Department of Mechanical Engineering, Aeronautical Engineering, and Mechanics, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York.


This chapter addresses computationally demanding numerical formulations in the biomechanics of soft tissues. The theory of mixtures can be used to represent soft hydrated tissues in the human musculoskeletal system as a two-phase continuum consisting of an incompressible solid phase (collagen and proteoglycan) and an incompressible fluid phase (interstitial water). We first consider the finite deformation of soft hydrated tissues in which the solid phase is represented as hyperelastic. A finite element formulation of the governing nonlinear biphasic equations is presented based on a mixed-penalty approach and derived using the weighted residual method. Fluid and solid phase deformation, velocity, and pressure are interpolated within each element, and the pressure variables within each element are eliminated at the element level. A system of nonlinear, first-order differential equations in the fluid and solid phase deformation and velocity is obtained. In order to solve these equations, the contributions of the hyperelastic solid phase are incrementally linearized, a finite difference rule is introduced for temporal discretization, and an iterative scheme is adopted to achieve equilibrium at the end of each time increment. We demonstrate the accuracy and adequacy of the procedure using a six-node, isoparametric axisymmetric element, and we present an example problem for which independent numerical solution is available. Next, we present an automated, adaptive environment for the simulation of soft tissue continua in which the finite element analysis is coupled with automatic mesh generation, error indicators, and projection methods. Mesh generation and updating, including both refinement and coarsening, for the two-dimensional examples examined in this study are performed using the finite quadtree approach. The adaptive analysis is based on an error indicator which is the L2 norm of the difference between the finite element solution and a projected finite element solution. Total stress, calculated as the sum of the solid and fluid phase stresses, is used in the error indicator. To allow the finite difference algorithm to proceed in time using an updated mesh, solution values must be transferred to the new nodal locations. This rezoning is accomplished using a projected field for the primary variables. The accuracy and effectiveness of this adaptive finite element analysis is demonstrated using a linear, two-dimensional, axisymmetric problem corresponding to the indentation of a thin sheet of soft tissue. The method is shown to effectively capture the steep gradients and to produce solutions in good agreement with independent, converged, numerical solutions.

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