The effect of eccentric contractions on intracellular Na(+) concentration ([Na(+)](i)) and its distribution were examined in isolated rat and mouse muscle fiber bundles. [Na(+)](i) was measured with either Na(+)-binding benzofuran isophthalate or sodium green. Ten isometric contractions had no significant effect on force (measured after 5 min of recovery) and caused no significant change in the resting [Na(+)](i) (7.2 +/- 0.5 mM). In contrast 10 eccentric contractions (40% stretch at 4 muscle lengths/s) reduced developed force at 100 Hz to 45 +/- 3% of control and increased [Na(+)](i) to 16.3 +/- 1.6 mM (n = 6; P < 0.001). The rise of [Na(+)](i) occurred over 1-2 min and showed only minimal recovery after 30 min. Confocal images of the distribution of [Na(+)](i) showed a spatially uniform distribution both at rest and after eccentric contractions. Gd(3+) (20 microM) had no effect on resting [Na(+)](i) or control tetanic force but prevented the rise of [Na(+)](i) and reduced the force deficit after eccentric damage. These data suggest that Na(+) entry after eccentric contractions may occur principally through stretch-sensitive channels.