1. Our purpose was to investigate the initial mechanisms responsible for contraction-induced injury. Most studies of mechanisms of contraction-induced injury have been based on observations made either shortly after many repeated contractions at the peak of fatigue, or days after, at the peak of delayed onset injury. As a result, conclusions based on these studies are complicated by interactions of mechanical and biochemical events, as well as the passage of time. We studied the initial mechanical events associated with contraction-induced injury immediately following single stretches of whole skeletal muscles of mice in situ. 2. We tested the hypothesis that immediately following a single stretch, the severity of contraction-induced injury is a function of both strain and average force. Consequently, the work done to stretch the muscle would be the best predictor of the magnitude of injury. Extensor digitorum longus muscles were adjusted to optimum length for force (L(o)). Passive (not stimulated) and maximally activated muscles were exposed to single stretches of 10, 20, 30, 50 or 60% strain, relative to muscle fibre length (Lf), at a rate of 2 Lf s-1. 3. The magnitude of injury was represented by the force deficit 1 min after the stretch expressed as a percentage of the maximum force prior to the stretch. The occurrence of injury was confirmed directly by electron microscopic analysis of the ultrastructure of muscle fibres that were fixed immediately following single stretches. 4. For active muscles, a single stretch of only 30% strain produced a significant force deficit, whereas for passive muscles, a larger strain was required. Stretches of greater than 50% strain resulted in greater force deficits for passive than for maximally activated muscles. For either condition, the work done to stretch the muscle was the best predictor of the magnitude of injury, accounting for 76% of the variability in the force deficit for maximally activated muscles, and 85% for passive muscles.