Laser cartilage reshaping (LCR) is a promising method for the in situ treatment of structural deformities in the nasal septum, external ear and trachea. Laser heating leads to changes in cartilage mechanical properties and produces relaxation of internal stress allowing formation of a new stable shape. While some animal and preliminary human studies have demonstrated clinical feasibility of LCR, application of the method outside specialized centers requires a better understanding of the evolution of cartilage mechanical properties with temperature. The purpose of this study was to (1) develop a method for reliable evaluation of mechanical changes in the porcine septal cartilage undergoing stress relaxation during laser heating and (2) model the mechanical changes in cartilage at steady state following laser heating. Rectangular cartilage specimens harvested from porcine septum were heated uniformly by a radio-frequency (RF) electric field (500 kHz) for 8 and 12 seconds to maximum temperatures from 50 to 90 degrees C. Cylindrical samples were fashioned from the heated specimens and their equilibrium elastic modulus was measured in a step unconfined compression experiment. Functional dependencies of the elastic modulus and maximum temperature were interpolated from the measurements. Profiles of the elastic modulus produced after 8 and 12 seconds of laser irradiation (Nd:YAG, lambda = 1.34 microm, spot diameter 4.8 mm, laser power 8 W) were calculated from interpolation functions and surface temperature histories measured with a thermal camera. The calculated elastic modulus profiles were incorporated into a numerical model of uniaxial unconfined compression of laser irradiated cylindrical samples. The reaction force to a 0.1 compressive strain was calculated and compared with the reaction force obtained in analogous mechanical measurements experiment. RF heating of rectangular cartilage sample produces a spatially uniform temperature field (temperature variations < or = 4 degrees C) in a central region of the sample which is also large enough for reliable mechanical testing. Output power adjustment of the RF generator allows production of temperature histories that are very similar to those produced by laser heating at temperatures above 60 degrees C. This allows creation of RF cartilage samples with mechanical properties similar to laser irradiated cartilage, however with a spatially uniform temperature field. Cartilage equilibrium elastic modulus as a function of peak temperature were obtained from the mechanical testing of RF heated samples. In the temperature interval from 60 to 80 degrees C, the equilibrium modulus decreased from 0.08+/- 0.01 MPa to 0.016+/-0.007 MPa, respectively. The results of the numerical simulation of uniaxial compression of laser heated samples demonstrate good correlation with experimentally obtained reaction force. The thermal history and corresponding thermally induced modification of mechanical properties of laser irradiated septal cartilage can be mimicked by heating tissue samples with RF electric current with the added advantage of a uniform temperature profile. The spatial distribution of the mechanical properties obtained in septal cartilage after laser irradiation could be computed from mechanical testing of RF heated samples and used for numerical simulation of LCR procedure. Generalization of this methodology to incorporate orthogonal mechanical properties may aid in optimizing clinical laser cartilage reshaping procedures. (c) 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.