Original Paper

Forensic Science, Medicine, and Pathology

, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 33-39

The biomechanical modelling of non-ballistic skin wounding: blunt-force injury

  • Kelly WhittleAffiliated withDepartment of Anatomy and Structural Biology, School of Medical Sciences, University of Otago
  • , Jules KieserAffiliated withDepartment of Oral Sciences, Faculty of Dentistry, University of Otago Email author 
  • , Ionut IchimAffiliated withDepartment of Oral Rehabilitation, Faculty of Dentistry, University of Otago
  • , Michael SwainAffiliated withDepartment of Oral Rehabilitation, Faculty of Dentistry, University of Otago
  • , Neil WaddellAffiliated withDepartment of Oral Rehabilitation, Faculty of Dentistry, University of Otago
  • , Vicki LivingstoneAffiliated withDepartment of Preventive and Social Medicine, Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago
  • , Michael TaylorAffiliated withInstitute for Environmental Science and Research

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Knowledge of the biomechanical dynamics of blunt force trauma is indispensable for forensic reconstruction of a wounding event. In this study, we describe and interpret wound features on a synthetic skin model under defined laboratory conditions. To simulate skin and the sub-dermal tissues we used open-celled polyurethane sponge (foam), covered by a silicone layer. A drop tube device with three tube lengths (300, 400, and 500 mm), each secured to a weighted steel scaffold and into which a round, 5-kg Federal dumbbell of length 180 mm and diameter 8 cm was placed delivered blows of known impact. To calculate energy and velocity at impact the experimental set-up was replicated using rigid-body dynamics and motion simulation software. We soaked each foam square in 500 mL water, until fully saturated, immediately before placing it beneath the drop tube. We then recorded and classified both external and internal lacerations. The association between external wounding rates and the explanatory variables sponge type, sponge thickness, and height were investigated using Poisson regression. Tears (lacerations) of the silicone skin layer resembled linear lacerations seen in the clinical literature and resulted from only 48.6% of impacts. Poisson regression showed there was no significant difference between the rate of external wounding for different sponge types (P = 0.294) or different drop heights (P = 0.276). Most impacts produced “internal wounds” or subsurface cavitation (96%). There were four internal “wound” types; Y-shape (53%), linear (25%), stellate (16%), and double crescent (6%). The two-way interaction height by sponge type was statistically significant in the analysis of variance model (P = 0.035). The other two-way interactions; height by thickness and sponge type by thickness, were also bordering on statistical significance (P = 0.061 and P = 0.071, respectively). The observation that external wounds were present for less than half of impacts only, but that nearly all impacts resulted in internal wounds, might explain the observed haematoma formation and contusions so often associated with blunt-force injuries. Our study also confirms the key role of hydrodynamic pressure changes in the actual tearing of subcutaneous tissue. At the moment and site of impact, transferred kinetic energy creates a region of high pressure on the fluid inside the tissue. As a result of the incompressibility of the fluid, this will be displaced away from the impact at a rate that depends on the velocity (or kinetic energy) of impact and the permeability and stiffness of the polymeric foam and skin layer.


Forensic science Traumatology Skin wounding Biomechanical modelling