6 Finite Element Models

6.9 Muscle activated FEM models

Finite element muscle models are an extension to regular FEM models. As such, everything previously discussed for regular FEM models also applies to FEM muscles. Muscles have additional properties that allow them to contract when activated. There are two types of muscles supported:


Point-to-point muscle fibres are embedded in the model.


An auxiliary material is added to the constitutive law to embed muscle properties.

In this section, both types will be described.

6.9.1 FemMuscleModel

The main class for FEM-based muscles is FemMuscleModel, a subclass of FemModel3d. It differs from a basic FEM model in that it has the new property

Property Description
muscleMaterial An object that adds an activation-dependent ‘muscle’ term to the constitutive law.

This is a delegate object of type MuscleMaterial that computes activation-dependent stress and stiffness in the muscle. In addition to this property, FemMuscleModel adds two new lists of subcomponents:


Groupings of muscle sub-units (fibres or elements) that can be activated.


Components that control the activation of a set of bundles or other exciters. Bundles

Muscle bundles allow for a muscle to be partitioned into separate groupings of fibres/elements, where each bundle can be activated independently. They are implemented in the class MuscleBundle. Bundles have three key properties:

Property Description
excitation Activation level of the muscle, a\in[0,1].
fibresActive Enable/disable “fibre-based” muscle components.
muscleMaterial An object that adds an activation-dependent ‘muscle’ term to the constitutive law.

The excitation property controls the level of muscle activation, with zero being no muscle action, and one being fully activated. The fibresActive property is a boolean variable that controls whether or not to treat any contained fibres as point-to-point-like muscles (“fibre-based”). If false, the fibres are ignored. The third property, muscleMaterial, allows for a MuscleMaterial to be specified per bundle. By default, its value is inherited from FemMuscleModel.

Once a muscle bundle is created, muscle sub-units must be assigned to it. These are either point-to-point fibres, or material-based muscle element descriptors. The two types will be covered in Sections 6.9.2 and 6.9.3, respectively. Exciters

Muscle exciters enable you to simultaneously activate a group of “excitation components”. This includes: point-to-point muscles, muscle bundles, muscle fibres, material-based muscle elements, and other muscle exciters. Components that can be excited all implement the ExcitationComponent interface. To add or remove a component to the exciter, use

  addTarget (ExcitationComponent ex);    // adds a component to the exciter
  addTarget (ExcitationComponent ex,     // adds a component with a gain factor
      double gain);
  removeTarget (ExcitationComponent ex); // removes a component

If a gain factor is specified, the activation is scaled by the gain for that component.

6.9.2 Fibre-based muscles

In fibre-based muscles, a set of point-to-point muscle fibres are added between FEM nodes or markers. Each fibre is assigned an AxialMuscleMaterial, just like for regular point-to-point muscles (Section 4.4.1). Note that these muscle materials typically have a “rest length” property, that will likely need to be adjusted for each fibre. Once the set of fibres are added to a MuscleBundle, they need to be enabled. This is done by setting the fibresActive property of the bundle to true.

Fibres are added to a MuscleBundle using one of the functions:

addFibre( Muscle muscle );              // adds a point-to-point fibre
Muscle addFibre( Point p0, Point p1,    // creates and adds a fibre
    AxialMuscleMaterial mat);

The latter returns the newly created Muscle fibre. The following code snippet demonstrates how to create a fibre-based MuscleBundle and add it to an FEM muscle.

1 // Create a muscle bundle
2 MuscleBundle bundle = new MuscleBundle("fibres");
3 Point3d[] fibrePoints = ...   //create a sequential list of points
5 // Add fibres
6 Point pPrev = fem.addMarker(fibrePoints[0]);    // create an FEM marker
7 for (int i=1; i<=fibrePoints.length; i++) {
8    Point pNext = fem.addMarker(fibrePoint[i]);
10    // Create fibre material
11    double l0 = pNext.distance(pPrev);           // rest length
12    AxialMuscleMaterial fibreMat =
13          new BlemkerAxialMuscle(
14                1.4*l0, l0, 3000, 0, 0);
16    // Add a fibre between pPrev and pNext
17    bundle.addFibre(pPrev, pNext, fibreMat);     // add fibre to bundle
18    pPrev = pNext;
19 }
21 // Enable use of fibres (default is disabled)
22 bundle.setFibresActive(true);
23 fem.addMuscleBundle(bundle);                    // add the bundle to fem

In these fibre-based muscles, force is only exerted between the anchor points of the fibres; it is a discrete approximation. These models are typically more stable than material-based ones.

6.9.3 Material-based muscles

In material-based muscles, the constitutive law is augmented with additional terms to account for muscle-specific properties. This is a continuous representation within the model.

The basic building block for a material-based muscle bundle is a MuscleElementDesc. This object contains a reference to a FemElement3d, a MuscleMaterial, and either a single direction or set of directions that specify the direction of contraction. If a single direction is specified, then it is assumed the entire element contracts in the same direction. Otherwise, a direction can be specified for each integration point within the element. A null direction signals that there is no muscle at the corresponding point. This allows for a sub-element resolution for muscle definitions. The positions of integration points for a given element can be obtained with:

// loop through all integration points for a given element
for ( IntegrationPoint3d ipnt : elem.getIntegrationPoints() ) {
   Point3d curPos = new Point3d();
   Point3d restPos = new Point3d();
   ipnt.computePosition (curPos, elem);          // computes current position
   ipnt.computeRestPosition (restPos, elem);     // computes rest position

By default, the MuscleMaterial is inherited from the bundle’s material property. Supported muscle materials include: GenericMuscle, BlemkerMuscle, and FullBlemkerMuscle. The Blemker-type materials are based on [2]. BlemkerMuscle only uses the muscle-specific terms (since a base material is provided the underlying FEM model), whereas FullBlemkerMuscle adds all terms described in the aforementioned paper.

Elements can be added to a muscle bundle using one of the methods:

// Adds a muscle element
addElement (MuscleElementDesc elem);
// Creates and adds a muscle element
MuscleElementDesc addElement (FemElement3d elem, Vector3d dir);
// Sets a direction per integration point
MuscleElementDesc addElement (FemElement3d elem, Vector3d[] dirs);

The following snippet demonstrates how to create and add a material-based muscle bundle:

1 // Create muscle bundle
2 MuscleBundle bundle = new MuscleBundle("embedded");
4 // Muscle material
5 MuscleMaterial muscleMat = new BlemkerMuscle(
6       1.4, 1.0, 3000, 0, 0);
7 bundle.setMuscleMaterial(muscleMat);
9 // Muscle direction
10 Vector3d dir = Vector3d.X_UNIT;
12 // Add elements to bundle
13 for (FemElement3d elem : beam.getElements()) {
14    bundle.addElement(elem, dir);
15 }
17 // Add bundle to model
18 beam.addMuscleBundle(bundle);

6.9.4 Example: comparison with two beam examples

Figure 6.14: FemMuscleBeams model loaded into ArtiSynth.

An example comparing a fibre-based and a material-based muscle is shown in Figure 6.14. The code can be found in artisynth.demos.tutorial.FemMuscleBeams. There are two FemMuscleModel beams in the model: one fibre-based, and one material-based. Each has three muscle bundles: one at the top (red), one in the middle (green), and one at the bottom (blue). In the figure, both muscles are fully activated. Note the deformed shape of the beams. In the fibre-based one, since forces only act between point on the fibres, the muscle seems to bulge. In the material-based muscle, the entire continuous volume contracts, leading to a uniform deformation.

Material-based muscles are more realistic. However, this often comes at the cost of stability. The added terms to the constitutive law are highly nonlinear, which may cause numerical issues as elements become highly contracted or highly deformed. Fibre-based muscles are, in general, more stable. However, they can lead to bulging and other deformation artifacts due to their discrete nature.