Strenuous exercise is accompanied by an increase in circulating proinflammatory and inflammation responsive cytokines, having some similarities with the response to sepsis and trauma. The sequential release of tumour necrosis factor-alpha, interleukin (IL) 1 beta, IL-6, and IL-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1ra) in the blood is comparable to that observed in relation to bacterial diseases. Eccentric exercise is associated with an increase in serum IL-6 concentrations and is significantly correlated with the concentration of creatine kinase (CK) in the following days, whereas no changes are found after the concentric exercise; this demonstrates a close association between exercise-induced muscle damage and increased serum levels of IL-6. The time course of cytokine production, the close association with muscle damage, and the finding of mRNA-IL-6 in skeletal muscle biopsies after intense exercise all support the idea that during eccentric exercise myofibers are mechanically damaged and that this process stimulates the local production of inflammatory cytokines. It remains to be shown whether systemic endotoxemia during exercise is also a cause of elevated levels of cytokines in the plasma. The present review also discusses the possible roles of protein breakdown, delayed onset muscle soreness, and clinical implications of the acute-phase response following exercise.