Purpose: To assess the effect of exercise-induced muscle damage on muscle hardness and evaluate the relationship between muscle hardness and muscle damage indicators. Methods: Seven men (mean 25.3 years; 172.7 cm; 66.8 kg) performed the single-leg ankle plantar flexion exercise involving both concentric and eccentric contractions (10 sets of 40 repetitions). The hardness of the medial gastrocnemius (MG) was evaluated using ultrasound real-time tissue elastography before, from day 1 to 4, and day 7 after exercise. The strain ratio between the MG and a reference material was calculated. Simultaneously, we evaluated the magnetic resonance T2 value (an index of edema) of the triceps surae, the ankle dorsiflexion range of motion (ROM), and calf muscle soreness. Serum creatine kinase activity was assessed before, 2 and 4 h, and from day 1 to 4 after exercise. Results: The MG showed lower strain ratio, indicating increased muscle hardness, on day 4 post-exercise (P < 0.01) and higher T2 values on days 1–7 post-exercise (P < 0.01) relative to each pre-exercise value. The ankle dorsiflexion ROM was lower on days 2–4 post-exercise (P < 0.01). The serum creatine kinase markedly increased on days 3 and 4 post-exercise (not significant). The degree of muscle soreness among the post-exercise time points was similar. The decreased strain ratio did not correlate with the increased T2, the decreased joint ROM or muscle soreness. Conclusion: Muscle hardness increased after strenuous resistance exercise, but the change was not related with muscle edema, decreased joint ROM, or muscle soreness resulting from muscle damage.
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