To study the effects of compressive straining on muscle cell deformation and damage an in vitro model system was developed. Myoblasts were seeded in agarose constructs and cultured in growth medium for 4 days. Subsequently, the cells were allowed to fuse into multinucleated myotubes for 8 days in differentiation medium, resulting in a population of spherical myoblasts (50%), spherical myotubes (35%), and elongated myotubes (15%) with an overall viability of 90%. To evaluate cell deformation upon construct compression half-core shaped constructs were compressed up to 40% strain and the resulting cell shape was assessed from confocal scans through the central plane of spherical cells. The ratio of cell diameters measured parallel and perpendicular to the axis of compression was used as an index of deformation (DI). The average DI of myoblasts decreased with strain level (0.99±0.03, 0.70±0.04, and 0.56±0.10 at 0%, 20%, and 40% strain), whereas for myotubes DI decreased up to 20% strain and then remained fairly constant (0.99±0.06, 0.55±0.06, 0.50±0.11). The discrepancy in DI between spherical myoblasts and myotubes at 20% strain was explained by the relative sensitivity of the cell membrane to buckling, which is more pronounced in the myotubes. Sustained compression up to 24 h at 20% strain resulted in a significant increase in cell damage with time as compared to unstrained controls. Despite differences in membrane buckling no difference in damage between myoblasts and spherical myotubes was observed over time, whereas the elongated myotubes were more susceptible to damage. © 2001 Biomedical Engineering Society.