Myopathy as a cause of Long COVID fatigue: Evidence from quantitative and single fiber EMG and muscle histopathology

Clin Neurophysiol. 2023 Apr:148:65-75. doi: 10.1016/j.clinph.2023.01.010. Epub 2023 Feb 1.


Objective: To describe neurophysiological abnormalities in Long COVID and correlate quantitative electromyography (qEMG) and single fiber EMG (sfEMG) results to clinical scores and histopathology.

Methods: 84 patients with non-improving musculoskeletal Long COVID symptoms were examined with qEMG and sfEMG. Muscle biopsies were taken in a subgroup.

Results: Mean motor unit potential (MUP) duration was decreased in ≥ 1 muscles in 52 % of the patients. Mean jitter was increased in 17 % of the patients in tibialis anterior and 25 % in extensor digitorum communis. Increased jitter was seen with or without myopathic qEMG. Low quality of life score correlated with higher jitter values but not with qEMG measures. In addition to our previously published mitochondrial changes, inflammation, and capillary injury, we show now in muscle biopsies damage of terminal nerves and motor endplate with abundant basal lamina material. At the endplate, axons were present but no vesicle containing terminals. The post-synaptic cleft in areas appeared atrophic with short clefts and coarse crests.

Conclusions: Myopathic changes are common in Long COVID. sfEMG abnormality is less common but may correlate with clinical scores. sfEMG changes may be due to motor endplate pathology.

Significance: These findings may indicate a muscle pathophysiology behind fatigue in Long COVID.

Keywords: Electromyography; Fatigue; Long COVID; Muscle biopsy; Myopathy; Post-COVID syndrome; Single fiber electromyography.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / complications
  • Electromyography / methods
  • Fatigue
  • Humans
  • Muscle, Skeletal
  • Muscular Diseases*
  • Post-Acute COVID-19 Syndrome
  • Quality of Life