A study of the mechanics of fetal movements in utero, published in Biomechanics and Modeling in Mechanobiology in 2015 and available here.
Fetal movements in the uterus are a natural part of development and are known to play an important role in normal musculoskeletal development. However, very little is known about the biomechanical stimuli that arise during movements in utero, despite these stimuli being crucial to normal bone and joint formation. Therefore, the objective of this study was to create a series of computational steps by which the forces generated during a kick in utero could be predicted from clinically observed fetal movements using novel cine-MRI data of three fetuses, aged 20–22 weeks. A custom tracking software was designed to characterize the movements of joints in utero, and average uterus deflection of \(6.95 \pm 0.41\) mm due to kicking was calculated. These observed displacements provided boundary conditions for a finite element model of the uterine environment, predicting an average reaction force of \(0.52 \pm 0.15\) N generated by a kick against the uterine wall. Finally, these data were applied as inputs for a musculoskeletal model of a fetal kick, resulting in predicted maximum forces in the muscles surrounding the hip joint of approximately 8 N, while higher maximum forces of approximately 21 N were predicted for the muscles surrounding the knee joint. This study provides a novel insight into the closed mechanical environment of the uterus, with an innovative method allowing elucidation of the biomechanical interaction of the developing fetus with its surroundings.