Biomechanical modelling of musculoskeletal systems

Scope of the method

The Method relates to
  • Animal health
The Method is situated in
  • Basic Research
Type of method
  • In silico


Method keywords
  • biomechanica
  • simulation
  • mechanica
  • kinematica
  • anatomy
Scientific area keywords
  • musculoskeletal
  • function
  • movement
  • functional performance
Method description

Biomechanical modelling used to simulate functional performance of skeleton and muscle systems in vertebrates. For studying how tissues respond to mechanical loading during movement, we apply finite element modelling. For studying how muscles interact with skeletal elements, and how they make them move, we use multi body dynamics analysis. All involve using 3D data of internal anatomy (can be obtained from µCT scanning of preserved specimens) and material properties (available from literature, if not has to be measured on a fresh cadaver). Computer models then simulate strain and stress during mechanical loading (finite element modelling) and how muscles transfer contraction force onto skeletal elements, and how they interact with each other (multi body dynamics analysis). The methods allow to perform sensitivity analysis to estimate variation, by varying the input parameters. In that way, the number of specimens that would need to be used for in vivo measurements or sacrificed can be substantially reduced (but not completely avoided, as the models always requires some kind of validation).

Lab equipment
  • µCT scanner ;
  • Computer running specific software: Amira (3D reconstruction of µCT data), FEBio (finite element modelling), Adams (multi body dynamics analysis).
Method status
  • History of use

Pros, cons & Future potential


Reduces number of specimens to be used in experiments or additional animals to be sacrificed for particular studies.


Validation of computer models so that they reliably mimic realistic systems of living animals.

References, associated documents and other information


Bright, J.A., A review of paleontological finite element models and their validity. Journal of Paleontology, 2014. 88(4): p. 760-769.

Brunt, L.H., et al., Building Finite Element Models to Investigate Zebrafish Jaw Biomechanics. J Vis Exp, 2016(118).

Chalk, J., et al., A Finite Element Analysis of Masticatory Stress Hypotheses. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 2011. 145(1): p. 1-10.

Cox, P.G., et al., Biomechanical performance of the rodent skull: sensitivity analyses of finite element models of rat, guinea pig and squirrel skulls. Journal of Anatomy.

Cuff, A.R., et al., Validation experiments on finite element models of an ostrich (Struthio camelus) cranium. PeerJ, 2015. 3: p. e1294.

Dumont, E.R., et al., Requirements for comparing the performance of finite element models of biological structures. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 2009. 256(1): p. 96-103.

Curtis, N., Craniofacial biomechanics: an overview of recent multibody modelling studies. J Anat, 2011. 218(1): p. 16-25.

Curtis, N., et al., Predicting muscle activation patterns from motion and anatomy: modelling the skull of Sphenodon (Diapsida: Rhynchocephalia). Journal of the Royal Society, Interface / the Royal Society, 2010. 7(42): p. 153-60.

Curtis, N., et al., Comparison between in vivo and theoretical bite performance: using multi-body modelling to predict muscle and bite forces in a reptile skull. J Biomech, 2010. 43(14): p. 2804-9.

Contact person

Dominique Adriaens


Ghent University (UGent)
Flemish Region


Hull University