3D Tendon Strain Estimation Using High-frequency Volumetric Ultrasound Images: A Feasibility Study

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Abstract

Estimation of strain in tendons for tendinopathy assessment is a hot topic within the sports medicine community. It is believed that, if accurately estimated, existing treatment and rehabilitation protocols can be improved and presymptomatic abnormalities can be detected earlier. State-of-the-art studies present inaccurate and highly variable strain estimates, leaving this problem without solution. Out-of-plane motion, present when acquiring two-dimensional (2D) ultrasound (US) images, is a known problem and may be responsible for such errors. This work investigates the benefit of high-frequency, three-dimensional (3D) US imaging to reduce errors in tendon strain estimation. Volumetric US images were acquired in silico, in vitro, and ex vivo using an innovative acquisition approach that combines the acquisition of 2D high-frequency US images with a mechanical guided system. An affine image registration method was used to estimate global strain. 3D strain estimates were then compared with ground-truth values and with 2D strain estimates. The obtained results for in silico data showed a mean absolute error (MAE) of 0.07%, 0.05%, and 0.27% for 3D estimates along axial, lateral direction, and elevation direction and a respective MAE of 0.21% and 0.29% for 2D strain estimates. Although 3D could outperform 2D, this does not occur in in vitro and ex vivo settings, likely due to 3D acquisition artifacts. Comparison against the state-of-the-art methods showed competitive results. The proposed work shows that 3D strain estimates are more accurate than 2D estimates but acquisition of appropriate 3D US images remains a challenge.

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