Inverse finite element methods for extracting elastic-poroviscoelastic properties of cartilage and other soft tissues from indentation

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Mechanical Engineering

First Committee Member

Narendra K. Simha, Committee Chair

Second Committee Member

Singiresu S. Rao, Committee Member


Mechanical properties are essential for understanding diseases that afflict various soft tissues, such as osteoarthritic cartilage and hypertension which alters cardiovascular arteries. Although the linear elastic modulus is routinely measured for hard materials, standard methods are not available for extracting the nonlinear elastic, linear elastic and time-dependent properties of soft tissues. Consequently, the focus of this work is to develop indentation methods for soft biological tissues; since analytical solutions are not available for the general context, finite element simulations are used.First, parametric studies of finite indentation of hyperelastic layers are performed to examine if indentation has the potential to identify nonlinear elastic behavior. To answer this, spherical, flat-ended conical and cylindrical tips are examined and the influence of thickness is exploited. Also the influence of the specimen/substrate boundary condition (slip or non-slip) is clarified.Second, a new inverse method---the hyperelastic extraction algorithm (HPE)---was developed to extract two nonlinear elastic parameters from the indentation force-depth data, which is the basic measurement in an indentation test. The accuracy of the extracted parameters and the influence of noise in measurements on this accuracy were obtained. This showed that the standard Berkovitch tip could only extract one parameter with sufficient accuracy, since the indentation force-depth curve has limited sensitivity to both nonlinear elastic parameters.Third, indentation methods for testing tissues from small animals were explored. New methods for flat-ended conical tips are derived. These account for practical test issues like the difficulty in locating the surface or soft specimens. Also, finite element simulations are explored to elucidate the influence of specimen curvature on the indentation force-depth curve.Fourth, the influence of inhomogeneity and material anisotropy on the extracted "average" linear elastic modulus was studied. The focus here is on murine tibial cartilage, since recent experiments have shown that the modulus measured by a 15 mum tip is considerably larger than that obtained from a 90 mum tip. It is shown that a depth-dependent modulus could give rise to such a size effect.Lastly, parametric studies were performed within the small strain setting to understand the influence of permeability and viscoelastic properties on the indentation stress-relaxation response. The focus here is on cartilage, and specific test protocols (single-step vs. multi-step stress relaxation) are explored. An inverse algorithm was developed to extract the poroviscoelastic parameters. A sensitivity study using this algorithm shows that the instantaneous elastic modulus (which is a measure of the viscous relaxation) can be extracted with very good accuracy, but the permeability and long-time relaxation constant cannot be extracted with good accuracy. The thesis concludes with implications of these studies. The potential and limitations of indentation tests for studying cartilage and other soft tissues is discussed.


Engineering, Biomedical; Engineering, Mechanical; Engineering, Materials Science

Link to Full Text