Re-evaluation of sarcolemma injury and muscle swelling in human skeletal muscles after eccentric exercise

PLoS One. 2013 Apr 15;8(4):e62056. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0062056. Print 2013.


The results regarding the effects of unaccustomed eccentric exercise on muscle tissue are often conflicting and the aetiology of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) induced by eccentric exercise is still unclear. This study aimed to re-evaluate the paradigm of muscular alterations with regard to muscle sarcolemma integrity and fibre swelling in human muscles after voluntary eccentric exercise leading to DOMS. Ten young males performed eccentric exercise by downstairs running. Biopsies from the soleus muscle were obtained from 6 non-exercising controls, 4 exercised subjects within 1 hour and 6 exercised subjects at 2-3 days and 7-8 days after the exercise. Muscle fibre sarcolemma integrity, infiltration of inflammatory cells and changes in fibre size and fibre phenotype composition as well as capillary supply were examined with specific antibodies using enzyme histochemistry and immunohistochemistry. Although all exercised subjects experienced DOMS which peaked between 1.5 to 2.5 days post exercise, no significant sarcolemma injury or inflammation was detected in any post exercise group. The results do not support the prevailing hypothesis that eccentric exercise causes an initial sarcolemma injury which leads to subsequent inflammation after eccentric exercise. The fibre size was 24% larger at 7-8 days than at 2-3 days post exercise (p<0.05). In contrast, the value of capillary number per fibre area tended to decrease from 2-3 days to 7-8 days post exercise (lower in 5 of the 6 subjects at 7-8 days than at 2-3 days; p<0.05). Thus, the increased fibre size at 7-8 days post exercise was interpreted to reflect fibre swelling. Because the fibre swelling did not appear at the time that DOMS peaked (between 1.5 to 2.5 days post exercise), we concluded that fibre swelling in the soleus muscle is not directly associated with the symptom of DOMS.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Capillaries / metabolism
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle Contraction*
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / pathology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / blood supply
  • Muscle, Skeletal / injuries*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / pathology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology
  • Myosin Heavy Chains / metabolism
  • Necrosis
  • Phenotype
  • Running / physiology
  • Sarcolemma / metabolism
  • Sarcolemma / pathology*
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Myosin Heavy Chains

Grant support

This work was supported by grants from the Swedish National Centre for Research in Sports (139/07, 89/10, 105/11), the Swedish Research Council (12X-03934) and the Medical Faculty of Umeå University. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. There is no actual or potential conflict of interest including financial, personal or other relationships with other people or organizations.