The effect of endurance exercise on the morphology of muscle attachment sites

J Exp Biol. 2006 Feb;209(Pt 3):444-54. doi: 10.1242/jeb.02028.


The morphology of muscle attachment sites, or entheses, has long been assumed to directly reflect in vivo muscle activity. The purpose of this study is to examine whether variations in muscle activity that are within normal physiological limits are reflected in variations in external attachment site morphology. This study tests the hypothesis that increased muscle activity (magnitude, number and frequency of loading cycles) results in the hypertrophy of muscle attachment sites. The attachment sites of six limb muscles and one muscle of mastication (control) in mature female sheep were measured and compared in exercised (weighted treadmill running for 1 h per day for 90 days) and sedentary control animals. Attachment site surface morphology was assessed by quantifying the size (3D surface area) and complexity (fractal dimension parallel and perpendicular to soft tissue attachment) of the surfaces. The results of this study demonstrate no effect of the exercise treatment used in this experiment on any measure of enthesis morphology. Potential explanations for the lack of exercise response include the mature age of the animals, inappropriate stimulus type for inducing morphological change, or failure to surpass a hypothetical threshold of load for inducing morphological change. However, further tests also demonstrate no relationship between muscle size and either attachment site size or complexity in sedentary control animals. The results of this study indicate that the attachment site morphological parameters measured in this study do not reflect muscle size or activity. In spite of decades of assumption otherwise, there appears to be no direct causal relationship between muscle size or activity and attachment site morphology, and reconstructions of behavior based on these features should be viewed with caution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Animals
  • Bone and Bones / anatomy & histology*
  • Female
  • Muscle, Skeletal / anatomy & histology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Musculoskeletal Development / physiology*
  • Physical Endurance / physiology*
  • Sheep / physiology*
  • Tendons / anatomy & histology
  • Tendons / physiology