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Ruiz, C., Noailly, J., Lacroix, D., (2013). Material property discontinuities in intervertebral disc porohyperelastic finite element models generate numerical instabilities due to volumetric strain variations Journal of the Mechanical Behavior of Biomedical Materials , 26, 1-10

Numerical studies of the intervertebral disc (IVD) are important to better understand the load transfer and the mechanobiological processes within the disc. Among the relevant calculations, fluid-related outputs are critical to describe and explore accurately the tissue properties. Porohyperelastic finite element models of IVD can describe accurately the disc behaviour at the organ level and allow the inclusion of fluid effects. However, results may be affected by numerical instabilities when fast load rates are applied. We hypothesized that such instabilities would appear preferentially at material discontinuities such as the annulus-nucleus boundary and should be considered when testing mesh convergence. A L4-L5 IVD model including the nucleus, annulus and cartilage endplates were tested under pure rotational loads, with different levels of mesh refinement. The effect of load relaxation and swelling were also studied. Simulations indicated that fluid velocity oscillations appeared due to numerical instability of the pore pressure spatial derivative at material discontinuities. Applying local refinement only was not enough to eliminate these oscillations. In fact, mesh refinements had to be local, material-dependent, and supplemented by the creation of a material transition zone, including interpolated material properties. Results also indicated that oscillations vanished along load relaxation, and faster attenuation occurred with the incorporation of the osmotic pressure. We concluded that material discontinuities are a major cause of instability for poromechanical calculations in multi-tissue models when load velocities are simulated. A strategy was presented to address these instabilities and recommendations on the use of IVD porohyperelastic models were given.

Keywords: Fast loads, Intervertebral disc, Numerical instabilities, Poroelastic model