In vivo evidence of significant levator ani muscle stretch on MR images of a live childbirth

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OBJECTIVE:Vaginal childbirth is believed to be a significant risk factor for the development of pelvic floor dysfunction later in life. Previous studies have explored the use of medical imaging and simulations of childbirth to determine the stretch in the levator ani muscle. A report in 2012 has recorded magnetic resonance images of a live childbirth of a 24 year old woman giving birth vaginally for the second time, using a 1.0 Tesla open, high-field scanner. Our objective was to determine the stretch ratios in the levator muscle using these magnetic resonance images of live childbirth.STUDY DESIGN:Three-dimensional magnetic resonance image sequences were obtained to visualize coronal and axial planes before and after the childbirth. These images were obtained before the expulsion phase without pushing and were used to reconstruct the levator muscle and the fetal head in 3 dimensions. The fetal head was approximated to be an ellipsoid, and it is assumed that its middle section is visible in dynamic magnetic resonance images. Assuming incompressibility, the full deformation field of the fetal head is then calculated. Real-time cine magnetic resonance images were acquired for the during the expulsion phase, occurring over 2 contractions in the midsagittal plane. The levator muscle stretch is estimated using a custom program. The program calculates points of contact between the fetal head ellipsoid and the levator ani muscle model as the head descends down the birth canal and moves them orthogonal to its surface. Circumferential stretch was calculated to represent the extension needed to allow the passage of the fetal head.RESULTS:Starting from a position in the preexpulsion phase, the levator muscle experiences a maximum circumferential stretch of 248% on the posterior-medial portion of the levator ani muscle, as shown in previously published finite element simulations. However, the maximal stretch was notably less than that predicted by finite element models. This is because our baseline 3-dimensional model of the levator muscle is created from images taken shortly before expulsion and thus is already in a stretched state. Furthermore, the finite element models are created from images of a healthy nulliparous woman, while this study uses images from a para 2 woman.CONCLUSION:This study is the first attempt to estimate the stretch in levator ani muscle using magnetic resonance images of a live childbirth. The stretch was significant and the locations corroborate with previous findings of finite element models.

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