The influence of estrogen on skeletal muscle: sex matters

Sports Med. 2010 Jan 1;40(1):41-58. doi: 10.2165/11319760-000000000-00000.


As women enter menopause, the concentration of estrogen and other female hormones declines. This hormonal decrease has been associated with a number of negative outcomes, including a greater incidence of injury as well as a delay in recovery from these injuries. Over the past two decades, our understanding of the protective effects of estrogen against various types of injury and disease states has grown immensely. In skeletal muscle, studies with animals have demonstrated that sex and estrogen may potentially influence muscle contractile properties and attenuate indices of post-exercise muscle damage, including the release of creatine kinase into the bloodstream and activity of the intramuscular lysosomal acid hydrolase, beta-glucuronidase. Furthermore, numerous studies have revealed an estrogen-mediated attenuation of infiltration of inflammatory cells such as neutrophils and macrophages into the skeletal muscles of rats following exercise or injury. Estrogen has also been shown to play a significant role in stimulating muscle repair and regenerative processes, including the activation and proliferation of satellite cells. Although the mechanisms by which estrogen exerts its influence upon indices of skeletal muscle damage, inflammation and repair have not been fully elucidated, it is thought that estrogen may potentially exert its protective effects by: (i) acting as an antioxidant, thus limiting oxidative damage; (ii) acting as a membrane stabilizer by intercalating within membrane phospholipids; and (iii) binding to estrogen receptors, thus governing the regulation of a number of downstream genes and molecular targets. In contrast to animal studies, studies with humans have not as clearly delineated an effect of estrogen on muscle contractile function or on indices of post-exercise muscle damage and inflammation. These inconsistencies have been attributed to a number of factors, including age and fitness level of subjects, the type and intensity of exercise protocols, and a focus on sex differences that typically involve factors and hormones in addition to estrogen. In recent years, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or estrogen combined with exercise have been proposed as potentially therapeutic agents for postmenopausal women, as these agents may potentially limit muscle damage and inflammation and stimulate repair in this population. While the benefits and potential health risks of long-term HRT use have been widely debated, controlled studies using short-term HRT or other estrogen agonists may provide future new and valuable insights into understanding the effects of estrogen on skeletal muscle, and greatly benefit the aging female population. Recent studies with older females have begun to demonstrate their benefits.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Estrogen Replacement Therapy
  • Estrogens / physiology*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / injuries
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Postmenopause / physiology
  • Sex Factors


  • Estrogens