The thermal response of the human upper extremity to large electric currents was examined using an axisym-metric unidimensional model containing bone, skeletal muscle, fat, and skin in coaxial cylindrical geometry. Appropriate thermal and electrical properties were assigned to each tissue, and the tissue response to joule heating was determined by a finite-element numerical technique. We found that when the tissues are electrically in parallel, skeletal muscle sustained the largest temperature rise and then heated adjacent tissues. Thus, when bone is not in series with other tissues, joule heating of bone is unlikely to be responsible for thermal damage to adjacent tissue. In addition, the effect of tissue perfusion on the thermal response was found to be essential for rapid cooling of the centrally located tissues.
©1987American Society of Plastic Surgeons