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Med Eng Phys. 2011 Dec;33(10):1245-53. doi: 10.1016/j.medengphy.2011.05.015. Epub 2011 Jun 22.

Experimental and computational analysis of soft tissue stiffness in forearm using a manual indentation device.

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Department of Applied Physics, University of Eastern Finland, Kuopio, Finland.


A hand held stiffness meter can be used to measure indentation stiffness of human soft tissues, sensitively altered, e.g., by pathological tissue swelling. Under indentation load, the relative contribution of each soft tissue component (i.e., skin, adipose tissue and muscle) to the biomechanical response is not known. In the present study, we evaluated the biomechanical role of different soft tissues in relaxed, physically stressed and oedemic human forearm. Soft tissue stiffness of the forearms of nine healthy human subjects was measured under four different test protocols: (1) forearm at rest, (2) forearm under isometric flexor loading, (3) forearm under isometric extensor loading, and (4) forearm under venous occlusion. In (2) and (3) the loading forces were monitored using a dynamometer, and in (4) the soft tissue swelling was induced by venous occlusion using a pressure cuff. At the site of indentation, thickness of different tissue layers (skin, adipose tissue and muscle) was measured using B-mode ultrasound imaging. Layered, hyperelastic finite element (FE) model of the indentation measurement was created and the model response was matched with that of the stiffness meter to determine the elastic modulus for each tissue in the model. Optimized values of the elastic modulus for skin and adipose tissue at rest were 210 kPa and 1.9 kPa, respectively. Further, significance of the variations in stiffness of different tissues on the indentation response was tested. Experimentally, indentation stiffness of the forearm increased during isometric extensor and flexor loads as well as under venous occlusion by 53, 91 and 15%, respectively. The FE model could reproduce the experimental responses primarily by the increased modulus of skin; 112% (446 kPa), 210% (651 kPa) and 21% (254 kPa) under flexor and extensor loading as well as during venous occlusion, respectively. The indentation response was 9-16 times more sensitive to changes in the mechanical properties of skin than those of adipose tissue and muscle. In conclusion, the present stiffness meter may be used to quantify in vivo mechanical properties of soft tissues in the forearm, sensitively modulated by soft tissue swelling and muscle loading.

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