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A methodology for estimating the force distribution that occurs along a needle shaft during insertion is described. An experimental system for measuring planar tissue phantom deformation during needle insertions has been developed and is presented. A two-dimensional linear elastostatic material model, discretised using the finite element method, is used to derive contact force information that is not directly measurable. This approach provides a method for quantifying the needle forces and soft tissue deformations that occur during general needle trajectories in multiple dimensions. The needle force distribution is used for graphical and haptic real-time simulations of needle insertion. Since the force displacement relationship is required only along the needle, a condensation technique is shown to achieve very fast interactive simulations. Stiffness matrix changes corresponding to changes in boundary conditions and material coordinate frames are performed using low-rank matrix updates.