Effect of skull flexural properties on brain response during dynamic head loading

T. P. Harrigan, J. C. Roberts, E. E. Ward, C. M. Carneal, A. C. Merkle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The skull-brain complex is typically modeled as an integrated structure, similar to a fluid-filled shell. Under dynamic loads, the interaction of the skull and the underlying brain, cerebrospinal fluid, and other tissue produces the pressure and strain histories that are the basis for many theories meant to describe the genesis of traumatic brain injury. In addition, local bone strains are of interest for predicting skull fracture in blunt trauma. However, the role of skull flexure in the intracranial pressure response to blunt trauma is complex. Since the relative time scales for pressure and flexural wave transmission across the skull are not easily separated, it is difficult to separate out the relative roles of the mechanical components in this system. This study uses a finite element model of the head, which is validated for pressure transmission to the brain, to assess the influence of skull table flexural stiffness on pressure in the brain and on strain within the skull. In a Human Head Finite Element Model, the skull component was modified by attaching shell elements to the inner and outer surfaces of the existing solid elements that modeled the skull. The shell elements were given the properties of bone, and the existing solid elements were decreased so that the overall stiffness along the surface of the skull was unchanged, but the skull table bending stiffness increased by a factor of 2.4. Blunt impact loads were applied to the frontal bone centrally, using LS-Dyna. The intracranial pressure predictions and the strain predictions in the skull were compared for models with and without surface shell elements, showing that the pressures in the mid-anterior and mid-posterior of the brain were very similar, but the strains in the skull under the loads and adjacent to the loads were decreased 15% with stiffer flexural properties. Pressure equilibration to nearly hydrostatic distributions occurred, indicating that the important frequency components for typical impact loading are lower than frequencies based on pressure wave propagation across the skull. This indicates that skull flexure has a local effect on intracranial pressures but that the integrated effect of a dome-like structure under load is a significant part of load transfer in the skull in blunt trauma.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)187-194
Number of pages8
JournalBiomedical Sciences Instrumentation
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013


  • Composite skull
  • Impact
  • Intracranial pressure
  • Skull flexure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Medical Laboratory Technology

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