Finite element modeling of soft tissues: Material models, tissue interaction and challenges

Maren Freutel, Hendrik Schmidt, Lutz Dürselen, Anita Ignatius, Fabio Galbusera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background Musculoskeletal soft tissues, such as articular cartilage, ligaments, knee meniscus and intervertebral disk, have a complex structure, which provides elasticity and capability to support and distribute the body loads. Soft tissues describe an inhomogeneous and multiphasic structure, and exhibit a nonlinear, time-dependent behavior. Their mechanical response is governed by a substance composed of protein fiber-rich and proteoglycan-rich extracellular matrix and interstitial fluid. Protein fibers (e.g. collagen) give the tissue direction dependent stiffness and strength. To investigate these complex biological systems, the use of mathematical tools is well established, alone or in combination with experimental in vitro and in vivo tests. However, the development of these models poses many challenges due to the complex structure and mechanical response of soft tissues. Methods Non-systematic literature review. Findings This paper provides a summary of different modeling strategies with associated material properties, contact interactions between articulating tissues, validation and sensitivity of soft tissues with special focus on knee joint soft tissues and intervertebral disk. Furthermore, it reviews and discusses some salient clinical findings of reported finite element simulations. Interpretation Model studies extensively contributed to the understanding of functional biomechanics of soft tissues. Models can be effectively used to elucidate clinically relevant questions. However, users should be aware of the complexity of such tissues and of the capabilities and limitations of these approaches to adequately simulate a specific in vivo or in vitro phenomenon.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)363-372
Number of pages10
JournalClinical Biomechanics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Anisotropy
  • Biomechanics
  • Cartilage
  • Finite element
  • Intervertebral disk
  • Material formulations
  • Meniscus
  • Soft tissue

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Biophysics


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