Mechanical compression-induced pressure sores in rat hindlimb: Muscle stiffness, histology, and computational models

E. Linder-Ganz, A. Gefen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Pressure sores affecting muscles are severe injuries associated with ischemia, impaired metabolic activity, excessive tissue deformation, and insufficient lymph drainage caused by prolonged and intensive mechanical loads. We hypothesize that mechanical properties of muscle tissue change as a result of exposure to prolonged and intensive loads. Such changes may affect the distribution of stresses in soft tissues under bony prominences and potentially expose additional uninjured regions of muscle tissue to intensified stresses. In this study, we characterized changes in tangent elastic moduli and strain energy densities of rat gracilis muscles exposed to pressure in vivo (11.5, 35, or 70 kPa for 2, 4, or 6 h) and incorporated the abnormal properties that were measured in finite element models of the head, shoulders, pelvis, and heels of a recumbent patient. Using in vitro uniaxial tension testing, we found that tangent elastic moduli of muscles exposed to 35 and 70 kPa were 1.6-fold those of controls (P < 0.05, for strains ≤5%) and strain energy densities were 1.4-fold those of controls (P < 0.05, for strains ≥5%). Histological (phosphotungstic acid hematoxylin) evaluation showed that this stiffening accompanied extensive necrotic damage. Incorporating these effects into the finite element models, we were able to show that the increased muscle stiffness in widening regions results in elevated tissue stresses that exacerbate the potential for tissue necrosis. Interfacial pressures could not predict deep muscle (e.g., longissimus or gluteus) stresses and injuring conditions. We conclude that information on internal muscle stresses is required to establish new criteria for pressure sore prevention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2034-2049
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2004


  • Animal model
  • Decubitus ulcers
  • Finite element analysis
  • Muscle mechanical properties
  • Soft tissue injury


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