1. Seven patients who had suffered unilateral leg fracture were studied after removal of immobilizing plaster casts.

2. Leg volume measured anthropometrically was reduced by 12% in the injured leg (5·68 ± 1·05 litres) compared with the uninjured (6·43 ± 0·87 litres). Associated with this loss was a similar reduction in the net maximum oxygen uptake achieved in one-leg cycling, from 1·89 ± 0·21 l/min in the uninjured leg to 1·57±0·18 l/min in the injured.

3. Measured by a percutaneous needle biopsy technique, a reduction of 42% was found in the cross-sectional area of the muscle fibres sampled from the vastus lateralis of the injured compared with the uninjured leg.

4. Staining for myosin adenosine triphosphatase activity showed that both type I and II fibres were affected, being reduced respectively from 3410 to 1840 μm2 and from 3810 to 2390 μm2 cross-sectional area.

5. Possible reasons and implications are discussed for the discrepancy between the magnitude of the difference observed in the gross measurement of leg function (maximum oxygen uptake) and structure (leg volume) as compared with the cellular level (cross-sectional fibre area).

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