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Keywords:

  • autocorrelation;
  • biomechanic;
  • mechanical;
  • spatial anisotropy;
  • subcutaneous tissue;
  • ultrasound

Abstract

As the intermediate layer between the muscle and skin, the subcutaneous tissue frequently experiences shear and lateral stresses whenever the body is in motion. However, quantifying such stresses in vivo is difficult. The lack of such measures is partly responsible for our poor understanding of the biomechanical behaviors of subcutaneous tissue. In this study, we employ both ultrasound imaging and a novel spatial anisotropy measure – incorporating Moran’s I spatial autocorrelation calculations – to investigate the structuromechanical features of subcutaneous tissues within the extremities of 16 healthy volunteers. This approach is based on the understanding that spatial anisotropy can be an effective surrogate for the summative, tensile forces experienced by biological tissue. We found that spatial anisotropy in the arm, thigh and calf was attributed to the echogenic bands spanning the width of the ultrasound images. In both univariable and multivariable analyses, the calf was significantly associated with greater anisotropy compared with the thigh and arm. Spatial anisotropy was inversely related to subcutaneous thickness, and was significantly increased with longitudinally oriented probe images compared with transversely orientated images. Maximum peaks in spatial anisotropy were frequently observed when the longitudinally oriented ultrasound probe was swept across the extremity, suggesting that longitudinal channels with greater tension exist in the subcutaneous layer. These results suggest that subcutaneous biomechanical tension is mediated by collagenous/echogenic bands, greater in the calf compared with the thigh and arm, increased in thinner individuals, and maximal along longitudinal trajectories parallel to the underlying muscle. Spatial anisotropy analysis of ultrasound images has yielded meaningful patterns and may be an effective means to understand the biomechanical strain patterns within the subcutaneous tissue of the extremities.