, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp 485-494
Date: 24 Aug 2010

Anisotropic effects of the levator ani muscle during childbirth

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Abstract

Pelvic floor dysfunction and pelvic organ prolapse have been associated with damage to the levator ani (LA) muscle, but the exact mechanisms linking them remain unknown. It has been postulated that factors such as vaginal birth and ageing may contribute to long-term, irreversible LA muscle damage. To investigate the biomechanical significance of the LA muscle during childbirth, researchers and clinicians have used finite element models to simulate the second stage of labour. One of the challenges is to represent the anisotropic mechanical response of the LA muscle. In this study, we investigated the effects of anisotropy by varying the relative stiffness between the fibre and the matrix components, whilst maintaining the same overall stress–strain response in the fibre direction. A foetal skull was passed through two pelvic floor models, which incorporated the LA muscle with different anisotropy ratios. Results showed a substantial decrease in the magnitude of the force required for delivery as the fibre anisotropy was increased. The anisotropy ratio markedly affected the mechanical response of the LA muscle during a simulated vaginal delivery. It is apparent that we need to obtain experimental data on muscle mechanics in order to better approximate the LA muscle mechanical properties for quantitative analysis. These models may advance our understanding of the injury mechanisms of pelvic floor during childbirth.