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Exercise selectively increases the signal intensities (SI) of active muscles in T2-weighted magnetic resonance (MR) images. If these SI increases are graded with exercise intensity, the identification of muscle recruitment patterns may be possible using MR imaging. The purpose of this study was to determine the effect of force generation during exercise on muscle T2 values. Also, we examined the effects of extracellular fluid volume (ECV) expansion on muscle T2 values. Transaxial midcalf images were collected before and after exercise on eight volunteers in a 1.5T GE magnet using a standard spin echo sequence. Exercise consisted of three consecutive bouts of ankle dorsiflexion against graded loads. Three subjects also underwent brief bouts of lower leg venous occlusion (ECV expansion) during and in addition to the exercise protocol. T2 values for the dorsiflexors significantly increased after exercise. Greater mean force produced during exercise caused greater increases in T2 after exercise (T2 = 29.6 ± 0.9 X Force). Exercise and venous occlusion caused equivalent increases in muscle cross-sectional area. These equivalent increases in ECV were not accompanied by equivalent increases in muscle T2; venous occlusion alone caused less than a 5% increase in T2 while exercise caused a 14% to 25% increase. Consequently, a direct relationship between increases in T2 and in ECV after exercise was not established.Venous occlusion during exercise, however, did significantly augment the increase in T2 and ECV of the anterior compartment muscles. Contrast enhancement among muscles after exercise in T2-weighted MR images is dependent on generated force during exercise. Normal and abnormal patterns of movement, therefore, may be assessed based on changes in muscle SI. While an increase in ECV is a contributor factor, an increase in free intracellular water is the primary factor underlying an increased muscle SI after exercise.