Shoulder strain is a major limiting factor associated with load carriage. Despite advances in backpack designs, there are still reports of shoulder discomfort, loss of sensorimotor functions, and brachial plexus syndrome. The current study is aimed at characterizing mechanical loading conditions (strains and stresses) that develop within the shoulder's soft tissues when carrying a backpack. Open MRI scans were used for reconstructing a three-dimensional geometrical model of an unloaded shoulder and for measuring the soft tissue deformations caused by a 25-kg backpack; subsequently, a subject-specific finite element (FE) model for nonlinear, large-deformation stressstrain analyses was developed. Skin pressure distributions under the backpack strap were used as reference data and for verifying the numerical solutions. The parameters of the model were adjusted to fit the calculated tissue deformations to those obtained by MRI. The MRI scans revealed significant compression of the soft tissues of the shoulder, with substantial deformations in the area of the subclavian muscle and the brachial plexus. The maximal pressure values exerted by a 25-kg load were substantial and reached ∼90 kPa. In the muscle surrounding the brachial plexus, the model predicted maximal compressive strain of 0.14 and maximal tensile strain of 0.13, which might be injurious for the underlying neural tissue. In conclusion, the FE model provided some insights regarding the potential mechanisms underlying brachial plexus injuries related to load carriage. The large tissue deformations and pressure hotspots that were observed are likely to result in tissue damage, which may hamper neural function if sustained for long time exposures.
- Brachial plexus
- Finite element model
- Mechanical stress
- Open magnetic resonance imaging
- Rucksack palsy