The indentation problem of a thin layer of hydrated soft tissue such as cartilage or meniscus by a circular plane-ended indenter is investigated. The tissue is represented by a biphasic continuum model consisting of a solid phase (collagen and proteoglycan) and a fluid phase (interstitial water). A finite element formulation of the linear biphasic continuum equations is used to solve an axisymmetric approximation of the indentation problem. We consider stress-relaxation problems for which analytic solution is intractable; where the indenter is impermeable (solid) and/or when the interface between the indenter and tissue is perfectly adhesive. Thicknesses corresponding to a thin and thick specimen are considered to examine the effects of tissue thickness. The different flow, pressure, stress and strain fields which are predicted within the tissue, over time periods typically used in the mechanical testing of soft tissues, will be presented. Results are compared with the case of a porous free-draining indenter with a perfectly lubricated tissue-indenter interface, for which an analytic solution is available, to show the effects of friction at the tissue-indenter interface, and the effects of an impermeable indenter. While these effects are present for both thin and thick tissues, they are shown to be more significant for the thin tissue. We also examine the effects of the stiffness of the subchondral bone on the response of the soft tissue and demonstrate that the subchondral bone substrate can be modeled as a rigid, impermeable boundary. The effects of a curved tissue-subchondral bone interface, and the early time response are also studied. For physiologically reasonable levels of curvature, we will show that the curved tissue-subchrondral bone interface has negligible influence on the tissue response away from the interface. In addition, the short-time stress-relaxation responses of the tissue (e.g., at times less than 1s) demonstrate the essential role of the fluid phase in supporting the load applied to the tissue, and by extrapolation to shorter times characteristics of normal joint motion, suggest the essential role of a biphasic model in representing soft tissue behavior in joint response.

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