In order to establish a quantitative model of blood flow in skeletal muscle, the mechanical properties of the blood vessels need to be measured. We present measurements of the viscoelastic properties of arterioles, venules, and capillaries in exteriorized rat spinotrapezius muscle. Muscles were perfused with an inert silicone polymer and a uniform static pressure was established by occlusion of the venous outflow. Vessel diameters were then measured as a function of the static pressure. This study provides the first measurements of the viscoelastic properties of microvessels in skeletal muscle in situ. Over a pressure range of 20–200 mmHg, the transverse arterioles are the most distensible vessels, while the arcade venules are the stiffest. In response to a step change in pressure, all vessels show an initial elastic deformation, followed by a nonlinear creep. Based on the experimental results for different pressure histories a constitutive equation relating vessel diameter to the local transmural pressure is proposed. Diameter changes are expressed in the form of a diameter strain, analogous to a Green’s strain, and are related to the local transmural pressure using a standard linear solid model. This model has only three empirical coefficients and could be fitted to all experimental results for all vessels within error of measurement.

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