Muscle damage is not a function of muscle force but active muscle strain

R. L. Lieber*, J. Friden

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

355 Scopus citations


Contractile properties of rabbit tibialis anterior muscles were measured after eccentric contraction to investigate the mechanism of muscle injury. In the first experiment, two groups of muscles were strained 25% of the muscle fiber length at identical rates. However, because the timing of the imposed length change relative to muscle activation was different, the groups experienced dramatically different muscle forces. Because muscle maximum tetanic tension and other contractile parameters measured after 30 min of cyclic activity with either strain timing pattern were identical (P > 0.4), we concluded that muscle damage was equivalent despite very different imposed forces. This result was supported by a second experiment in which the same protocol was performed at one-half the strain (12.5% muscle fiber length). Again, there was no difference in maximum tetanic tension after cyclic 12.5% strain with either strain timing. Data from both experiments were analyzed by two-way analysis of variance, which revealed a highly significant effect of strain magnitude (P < 0.001) but no significant effect of stretch timing (P > 0.7). We interpret these data to signify that it is not high force per se that causes muscle damage after eccentric contraction but the magnitude of the active strain (i.e., strain during active lengthening). This conclusion was supported by morphometric analysis showing equivalent area fractions of damaged muscle fibers that were observed throughout the muscle cross section. The active strain hypothesis is described in terms of the interaction between the myofibrillar cytoskeleton, the sarcomere, and the sarcolemma.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)520-526
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of applied physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1993


  • cytoskeleton
  • desmin
  • eccentric contraction
  • integrins
  • intermediate filaments
  • muscle injury
  • stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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