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OBJECTIVE. The purpose of our study was to assess the feasibility of 2D shear wave ultrasound elastography to quantitatively measure changes of rigor mortis. SUBJECTS AND METHODS. Muscle stiffness of two live pigs and nine sacrificed pigs was measured in kilopascals using ultrasound elastography. The nine sacrificed pigs were divided into three groups of three pigs each and placed in one of three environments at 90°F (32°C), 70°F (21°C), or 34°F (1°C). Ultrasound elastography of five muscles was performed at 1- to 2-hour intervals for up to 50 hours postmortem. For each pig and muscle location, the time to start, peak intensity, duration of peak, and time to decline of rigor mortis were identified from the graphs of muscle stiffness values over time. These outcome variables were then compared across ambient temperature, body weight, and age groups using the Wilcoxon rank sum test. RESULTS. Postmortem measurements show a rise, peak, and decline of muscle stiffness after death. Rigor mortis was highly significantly affected by ambient temperature (p < .001), was significantly affected by body weight (p = .04), and was not significantly affected by animal age or muscle location (facial vs truncal vs limb) (p > .50). Peak intensity of rigor mortis developed more quickly but attained lower levels of muscle stiffness at 90°F (80-100 kPa) compared with 70°F and 34°F (280-300 kPa) (p < .001). The duration of peak rigor mortis and the time to decline of rigor mortis were significantly longer for the lower temperatures (p < .001). CONCLUSION. Two-dimensional shear wave ultrasound elastography can quantifi-ably measure the trajectory of rigor mortis in an animal model. This new approach may have direct implications for human forensic investigations.


Mark A Kliewer, Lu Mao, Benjamin J Weigman, Dana C Walker, Lori Mankowski Gettle, Robert F Corliss. Ultrasound Elastographic Measurement of Rigor Mortis in an Animal Model: A Feasibility Study for Improved Time-of-Death Estimates in Forensic Investigations. AJR. American journal of roentgenology. 2021 Apr;216(4):1126-1133

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PMID: 33624521

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