Exercise-induced muscle soreness : a qualitative and quantitative study of human muscle morphology and function

Abstract: Exercise-induced muscle soreness is characterized by stiffness, tenderness and pain during active movements and weakness of the affected musculature the days after unusually or particularly heavy work. The most pronounced subjective symptoms do not arise immediately but rather between a couple of hours to some days after the exercise (a delayed-onset of muscle soreness), the intensity of pain is greatest about 48 hours after the work. A particular association exists between muscle soreness and eccentric contractions. Despite the fact that muscle soreness is a well known phenomenon in the sphere of sports as well as working life, the pathophysiological mechanisms underlying this are still not understood.In the present study a detailed analysis of human muscle fibre population structure after high tension work (eccentric exercise) that gave rise to muscle soreness, was carried out. The objective was to elucidate how fibres of different types are influenced by repeated muscle contractions reaching extreme tension levels using qualitative and quantitative light and electron microscopic techniques. It was hoped that such morphological analysis would provide a basis for discussion of possible causes for muscle soreness. The muscle function after the work was measured by isokinetic methods.To improve the basis for the ultrastructural analysis the fibre populations in untrained and en­durance trained human m. vastus lateralis of age-matched individuals were classified into different fibre type groups according to their ultrastructure. The selective glycogen depletion from Type 1 fibres seen after long term submaximal work, visualized electron microscopically with PA-TSC-SP staining, substantiated the usefulness of the appearance of the M-band to differentiate between fibre types. Stereological data showed that neither volume density of mitochondria nor of lipid droplets provide sufficient criteria to differentiate between fibre types.After an eccentric exercise regimen sore muscles (m. soleus or m. vastus lateralis) showed disturb­ances of the cross striated band pattern. Fibres with disorganized myofibrillar material made up 1/3, 1/2 and 1/10 of the analysed material, 1 hour, 3 and 6 days after exercise, respectively. The myofibril­lar lesions were preferably localized in the Z-band. This showed streaming, broadening and sometimes total disruption. The Type 2 fibres were most affected.The reduction of strength was greatest with the most rapid contractions. Strength remained de­creased the period when the structural damage was most pronounced. Eight weeks of eccentric muscle training reduced all the above negative effects.The results indicate that the Z-disc constitute the weak link in the myofibrillar contractile chain at high muscle tensions. It is suggested that the myofibrillar lesions are a direct result of mechanical tearing. Rupture of myofibrils is thought to result in formation of protein components and a con- sequental release of protein bound ions that via osmosis result in oedema and soreness. Training, using eccentric contractions over a long period of time leads to adaptations at the fibre level by a reorgani­zation of the contractile apparatus as well as an optimization of nervous coordination.