Growth factors are involved in physiological angiogenesis in female reproductive organs but their role in capillary growth in skeletal muscles during activity or exercise training is not proven. Evidence suggests that increases in muscle blood flow and accompanying capillary shear stress and/or wall tension, or mechanical stress due to sarcomere length changes during contraction/relaxation cycles are closely linked with angiogenesis. Time-dependent studies of rat muscles in models with increased shear stress (chronic vasodilator treatment with alpha(1) antagonist prazosin), altered sarcomere length (stretch-induced overload with no increase in blood flow), or both (chronic electrical muscle stimulation) showed a similar increase in capillary supply in all models but by different modes of growth. With prazosin, it occurred by intra-luminal splitting of vessels, with stretch by abluminal sprouting, and in stimulated muscles by both methods. Whole muscle matrix metalloproteinase-2 (MMP-2) was elevated during sprouting growth induced by extravascular tensile forces but not during splitting growth induced by shear. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) protein was elevated at capillary sites in all three models but with different time courses. With shear as the stimulus, the increase occurred early although there was little capillary proliferation; it matched the rise in proliferation in stretched muscles but lagged behind proliferation in stimulated muscles. Mechanical forces therefore influence MMP and VEGF expression and capillary growth patterns in skeletal muscle differentially depending upon whether they act intra- or ab-luminally. In exercise-trained muscles, the type of capillary growth remains to be determined but the most likely stimuli for angiogenesis are increased blood flow and shear forces to vessel supplying the active fibres, probably linked with metabolic factors.