The effects of cyclical, passive manipulation (PM, 30 min day-1, 5 days week-1 for 6 months) mimicking the length excursions observed during stepping on the mechanical and associated biochemical properties of the inactive cat soleus muscle were determined in five cats. Inactivity was produced via spinal cord isolation (SI), i.e. complete spinal cord transections at low thoracic and high sacral levels and bilateral dorsal rhizotomy between the transection sites. Passive manipulation was administered to one leg of each SI cat. Compared with normal controls, SI resulted in [similar]70 % decrease in weight, an 80 % decrease in maximum tetanic tension (Po) and an [similar]100 % increase in maximum rate of shortening (Vmax) and myosin adenosine triphosphatase (mATPase) activity of the soleus. The passive manipulation regime partially ameliorated these effects. When compared with the control SI soleus, the SI-PM soleus weight and maximum tetanic tension were 12 and 21 % higher, respectively, and the Vmax and mATPase activity 21 and 12 % (p > 0·05) lower, respectively. Thus, inactivity resulted in a smaller and faster muscle, whereas passive manipulation for only 30 min a day tended to maintain these properties closer to normal control values. The results suggest a potential therapeutic effect of short bouts of cyclical, passive manipulation on otherwise inactive skeletal muscles.