BackgroundTo explore the value of magnetic resonance quantitative analysis using diffusion tensor imaging, T2 mapping, and intravoxel incoherent motion in the evaluation of eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage and to compare the effects of various eccentric exercise modes at different time points in rats.MethodsA total of 174 Sprague-Dawley male rats were randomly divided into five groups: control, once-only exercise, continuous exercise, intermittent exercise, and once-fatigue exercise groups. Each experimental group was divided into seven time-subgroups: 0.5 h, 24 h, 48 h, 72 h, 96 h, 120 h and 168 h after exercise. The quadriceps femoris muscles were then scanned using magnetic resonance imaging. The apparent diffusion coefficient and fractional anisotropy values of diffusion tensor imaging, T2 values of T2 mapping, D and D* values of intravoxel incoherent motion and optical density values of desmin were measured. Associations among different eccentric exercise programmes, magnetic resonance imaging findings, and histopathological results were evaluated. Dunnett’s test, two-way repeated measures analysis of variance, and Pearson correlation analysis were used for statistical analysis.ResultsDiffusion tensor imaging showed that the number of muscle fibre bundles decreased to varying degrees with different time points and eccentric exercises. Apparent diffusion coefficient values of the exercise groups showed a trend that first increased and then decreased, the opposite of fractional anisotropy. The specimens in all eccentric exercise programmes showed high signal T2 values after exercise, the highest among which was in the once-fatigue exercise group. D and D* in the experimental groups were significantly higher than those in the control group at 0.5–48 h after exercise. The apparent diffusion coefficient, fractional anisotropy, T2, D and D* values correlated with the optical density values of desmin.ConclusionsDiffusion tensor imaging, T2 mapping, and intravoxel incoherent motion technology accurately reflect the degree of skeletal muscle damage and recovery associated with eccentric exercise. The degree of muscle damage was the lowest in the continuous exercise group and the highest in the once-fatigue exercise group, which may provide more information and guidance for the formulation of physical and athletic training programmes.