The Effects of Pressure and Shear on Capillary Closure in the Microstructure of Skeletal Muscles


Deep tissue injury (DTI) is a severe pressure ulcer, which initiates in muscle tissue under a bony prominence, and progresses outwards. It is associated with mechanical pressure and shear that may cause capillaries to collapse and thus, induce ischemic conditions. Recently, some investigators stipulated that ischemia alone cannot explain the etiology of DTI, and other mechanisms, particularly excessive cellular deformations may be involved. The goal of this study was to evaluate the functioning of capillaries in loaded muscle tissue, using animal and finite element (FE) models. Pressures of 12, 37, and 78 kPa were applied directly to one gracilis muscle of 11 rats for 2 h. Temperatures of the loaded and contralateral muscles were recorded with time using infrared thermography (IRT) as a measure of the ischemic level. In addition, a non-linear large deformation muscle-fascicle-level FE model was developed and subjected to pressures of 12–120 kPa without and with simultaneous shear strain of up to 8%. For each simulation case, the accumulative percentage of open capillary cross-sectional area and the number of completely closed capillaries were determined. After 2 h, temperature of the loaded muscles was 2.4 ± 0.3 °C (mean ± standard deviation) lower than that of the unloaded contralateral limbs (mean of plateau temperature values across all pressure groups). Temperature of the loaded muscles dropped within 10 min but then remained stable and significantly higher than room temperature for at least 30 additional minutes in all pressure groups, indicating that limbs were not completely ischemic within the first 40 min of the trials. Our FE model showed that in response to pressures of 12–120 kPa and no shear, the accumulative percentage of open capillary cross-sectional area decreased by up to 71%. When shear strains were added, the open capillary cross-sectional area decreased more rapidly, but even for maximal loading, only 46% of the capillaries were completely closed. Taken together, the animal and FE model results suggest that acute ischemia does not develop in skeletal muscles under physiological load levels within a timeframe of 40 min. Since there is evidence that DTI develops within a shorter time, ischemia is unlikely to be the only factor causing DTI.

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We appreciate the help of Mr. T. Berger from Infrared Technologies Co., Israel, in conducting the IRT studies. We also thank Dr. S. Engelberg from the Laboratory for Vascular Biology, Sheba Medical Center, Israel, for conducting and interpreting the muscle histology studies. Funding was provided by the Slezak Super Center for Cardiac Research and Biomedical Engineering (AG).

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Correspondence to Amit Gefen.

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Linder-Ganz, E., Gefen, A. The Effects of Pressure and Shear on Capillary Closure in the Microstructure of Skeletal Muscles. Ann Biomed Eng 35, 2095–2107 (2007).

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  • Deep tissue injury
  • Pressure ulcer
  • Decubitus
  • Blood perfusion
  • Finite element model