Muscle fiber necrosis associated with human marathon runners

J Neurol Sci. 1983 May;59(2):185-203. doi: 10.1016/0022-510x(83)90037-0.


This study describes the events occurring in exercise-induced muscular necrosis. Biopsies of the gastrocnemius muscles of volunteer human marathon runners were extracted prior to and at intervals for 7 days following a marathon, and investigated ultrastructurally. Most of the preparations, including the pre-marathon samples, showed evidence of muscle fiber necrosis and inflammation. These preparations had many mitochondria, erythrocytes, leukocytes and other phagocytic cells within the extracellular and extravascular spaces. Less frequently observed were Z-line streaming and degeneration, contracture knots, disrupted sarcolemma, presence of erythrocytes within the muscle fibers, and empty basal lamina tubes in which the contents of the fibers and the sarcolemma had broken down to leave only the basal lamina outlining the former fiber. These abnormal conditions were most prevalent at 1 and 3 days after the marathon. These ultrastructural changes are compared and correlated with the reports of clinical manifestations of rhabdomyolysis and myoglobinuria. Because the abnormalities persist for the 7 day duration of these observations, and because many of these were observed in the pre-marathon biopsies, we conclude that both the intensive training for, and the marathon itself, induce inflammation and fiber necrosis which are manifested in the clinical symptoms for rhabdomyolysis and myoglobinuria. The inflammatory reaction that accompanies these activities may be a major factor in post-exercise soreness. The combined influences of training and necrosis are discussed in relation to muscle fiber type compositions of endurance athletes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Muscles / pathology*
  • Muscles / ultrastructure
  • Necrosis
  • Physical Exertion
  • Running*
  • Sarcolemma / ultrastructure
  • Time Factors