Peripheral skeletal muscles and exercise performance in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Monaldi Arch Chest Dis. 1998 Aug;53(4):419-23.


Impaired exercise capacity is a common finding in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients. This reduction is not a simple consequence of airflow limitation. Peripheral muscle weakness, deconditioning and impaired gas exchange, were recognized as important contributors to exercise intolerance. In this overview, the contribution of peripheral muscle function and muscle training to exercise performance is discussed by means of three questions: 1) Is peripheral muscle dysfunction contributing to exercise limitation in COPD? 2) How do we measure peripheral muscle function? 3) Are peripheral muscle training modalities effective? At present, there is substantial evidence for peripheral muscle dysfunction. Both reduced force generating capacity as well as impaired muscle metabolism were observed and these findings contributed substantially to the reduced exercise capacity in COPD. Peripheral muscle strength measurements are feasible with mechanical or electronic devices and revealed muscle weakness in COPD patients. However, this weakness is not uniform for all muscle groups. Upper arm and leg muscles were more affected than hand muscles. This may, at least in part, be related to differences in the levels of inactivity between leg and hand muscles. In addition, muscle weakness is associated with impaired exercise capacity and symptoms of increased exertion during exercise. Endurance exercise training, i.e. cycling and treadmill walking, improved exercise capacity and was associated with alterations in muscle metabolism. Strength training of peripheral muscles showed increases in submaximal exercise performance and quality of life measures. These improvements were observed independently of the degree of airflow obstruction. The optimal training regimen (strength or endurance), and the muscle groups to be trained, remain to be determined.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Exercise / physiology
  • Exercise Tolerance* / physiology
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / physiopathology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology*