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Sensitivity of the Shear Wave Speed-Stress Relationship to Soft Tissue Material Properties and Fiber Alignment




Fibrous soft tissue, Finite element model, Ligament, Probabilistic analysis, Shear wave tensiometry, Tendon


The use of shear wave propagation to noninvasively gauge material properties and loading in tendons and ligaments is a growing area of interest in biomechanics. Prior models and experiments suggest that shear wave speed primarily depends on the apparent shear modulus (i.e., shear modulus accounting for contributions from all constituents) at low loads, and then increases with axial stress when axially loaded. However, differences in the magnitudes of shear wave speeds between ligaments and tendons, which have different substructures, suggest that the tissue’s composition and fiber alignment may also affect shear wave propagation. Accordingly, the objectives of this study were to (1) characterize changes in the apparent shear modulus induced by variations in constitutive properties and fiber alignment, and (2) determine the sensitivity of the shear wave speed-stress relationship to variations in constitutive properties and fiber alignment. To enable systematic variations of both constitutive properties and fiber alignment, we developed a finite element model that represented an isotropic ground matrix with an embedded fiber distribution. Using this model, we performed dynamic simulations of shear wave propagation at axial strains from 0% to 10%. We characterized the shear wave speed-stress relationship using a simple linear regression between shear wave speed squared and axial stress, which is based on an analytical relationship derived from a tensioned beam model. We found that predicted shear wave speeds were both in-range with shear wave speeds in previous in vivo and ex vivo studies, and strongly correlated with the axial stress (R2 = 0.99). The slope of the squared shear wave speed-axial stress relationship was highly sensitive to changes in tissue density. Both the intercept of this relationship and the apparent shear modulus were sensitive to both the shear modulus of the ground matrix and the stiffness of the fibers’ toe-region when the fibers were less well-aligned to the loading direction. We also determined that the tensioned beam model overpredicted the axial tissue stress with increasing load when the model had less well-aligned fibers. This indicates that the shear wave speed increases likely in response to a load-dependent increase in the apparent shear modulus. Our findings suggest that researchers may need to consider both the material and structural properties (i.e., fiber alignment) of tendon and ligament when measuring shear wave speeds in pathological tissues or tissues with less well-aligned fibers.


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