Image formation in optical coherence elastography (OCE) results from a combination of two processes: the mechanical deformation imparted to the sample and the detection of the resulting displacement using optical coherence tomography (OCT). We present a multiphysics model of these processes, validated by simulating strain elastograms acquired using phase- sensitive compression OCE, and demonstrating close correspondence with experimental results. Using the model, we present evidence that the approximation commonly used to infer sample displacement in phase-sensitive OCE is invalidated for smaller deformations than has been previously considered, significantly affecting the measurement precision, as quantified by the displacement sensitivity and the elastogram signal-to-noise ratio. We show how the precision of OCE is affected not only by OCT shot-noise, as is usually considered, but additionally by phase decorrelation due to the sample deformation. This multiphysics model provides a general framework that could be used to compare and contrast different OCE techniques. © 2014 Optical Society of America.