Cellular Swelling and Injury Following Exercise

In the process of doing some research for a recent article I wrote for the Capital Bicycle Club’s newsletter, I found the pictures I’ve always dreamed of!  When people ask my why they are sore after riding or starting in on any new exercise, I’ve always tried to take then on the imaginary visual journey of a microscope into the muscles to see what has happened.  Without pictures, though, it’s often very difficult to convey the image.  I was lucky enough to find the pictures below.  They are very useful in showing the cellular damage, congestion, swelling, etc. that occurs to muscles after exercise.  The first picture shows a cross section view of muscle cells prior to exercise.  They are nice and full, with little space between, and evenly spaced nuclei (the darker spots at the perimeter of the cell.)  The second picture shows the extensive swelling and cellular debris still left around the muscle cells 7 days after exercise.  The marker (a) is a decayed muscle fiber, (b) is a normal muscle cell surrounded by the nuclei of other damaged muscle cells, and (c) is a necrotic (dying) muscle cell.  The white space around the cells is inflammatory infiltrate/swelling/and cellular debris.

These pictures speak to me about the importance of proper recovery and the focus on this aspect of training that must be taken into consideration.  Automatically, what comes to mind when I see these pictures are the topics of active recovery, monitoring training stress, monitoring for signs of overtraining, being serious about rest weeks, learning self-massage techniques, learning proper nutrition/hydration strategies, etc. to help heal this damage as quickly as possible so that you aren’t going into your next exercise session compromised.

(original photos can be found here)

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