Objective: To evaluate the effects of low-intensity swimming on radiation-induced leg contracture.
Methods: Forty mice were randomly and equally divided into four groups: 1) irradiation; 2) swimming before irradiation; 3) swimming after irradiation; 4) swimming after contracture, and their left hind legs were exposed to gamma irradiation of 60 Gy. The mice were allowed to swim freely for 10 minutes, three times per day. For group 2, the mice were allowed to swim for only 1 week before irradiation. For group 3, the mice were allowed to swim immediately after irradiation until day 130, post-irradiation. For group 4, the mice were allowed to swim after leg contracture happened (on day 30 post-irradiation) until day 130, post-irradiation. The leg lengths and knee joint angles were measured. Leg contracture was defined as the decrease in the hind leg lengths and the knee joint angles of each animal. The ultrastructural changes of gastrocnemius muscles were observed using transmission electron microscopy.
Results: The radiation could result in leg contracture and mitochondrial injury of the muscles. However, the group of swimming immediately after irradiation had less leg contracture and no vacuolar degeneration in the mitochondria, compared with the other groups.
Conclusion: Low-intensity swimming that began immediately after the mice were irradiated could effectively prevent the irradiated legs from contracture. Patients with irradiated mastication muscles were recommended to begin mouth-opening exercises immediately after radiotherapy.