muscle, the contractile tissue that effects the movement of and within the body. Muscle tissue in the higher animals is classified as striated, smooth, or cardiac, according to its structure and function. Striated, or skeletal, muscle forms the bulk of the body's muscle tissue and gives the body its general shape. It is called striated because it appears striped, in alternating bands of light and dark, when viewed under a microscope, and animals have conscious control over most of their striate muscles. Smooth muscle, which lines most of the hollow organs of the body, is not under voluntary control, but is regulated by the autonomic nervous system. Smooth muscle fibers are spindle-shaped, not striated, and generally are arranged in dense sheets. Smooth muscle lines the blood vessels, hair follicles, urinary tract, digestive tract, and genital tract. Its speed of contraction is slower than that of striated muscle, but it can remain contracted longer. Cardiac muscle is striated like skeletal muscle but, like smooth muscle, is controlled involuntarily. It is found only in the heart, where it forms that organ's thick walls. The contractions of cardiac muscle are stimulated by a special clump of muscle tissue located on the heart (the pacemaker), although the rate of contractions is subject to regulation by the autonomic nervous system.

Muscle Contraction

Skeletal muscles are attached (with some exceptions, such as the muscles of the tongue and pharynx) to the skeleton by means of tendons, usually in pairs that pull in opposite directions, e.g., the biceps (flexor) and triceps (extensor) that move the forearm at the elbow. The means by which all types of muscles contract is thought to be generally the same, although muscles are classified as phasic, or fast twitch, and tonic, or slow twitch, to differentiate between the various lengths of time a muscle may require to move in response to stimulation. Striated muscle is usually considered phasic, while cardiac and smooth muscle are thought to be tonic.

Perhaps because its action is most varied, striated muscle has been studied most extensively. This type of muscle is composed of numerous cylindrically shaped bundles of cells, each enclosed in a sheath called the sarcolemma. Each muscle fiber contains several hundred to several thousand tightly packed strands called myofibrils that consist of alternating filaments of the protein substances actin and myosin. Actin and myosin interact before muscle contraction, forming the contractile material actomyosin.

The energy required for muscle contraction comes from the breakdown of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a substance that is present in the cells and is formed during cellular respiration. A muscle fiber is stimulated to contract by electrical impulses from the nervous system. The point of contact between nerve and muscle is the neuromuscular junction, where the chemical substance acetylcholine is secreted, initiating the changes that cause the muscle to contract. During resting states, some of the fibers in the musculature are maintained in a state of partial contraction, known as muscle tone. This permits muscles to contract quickly when stimulated without having to overcome the inertia of total relaxation.

Major muscles of the human body. (1) frontalis, (2) occipitalis, (3) temporalis, (4) orbicularis of elipsis

Contractile tissue that produces motion for functions, including body movements, digestion, focusing, circulation, and body warmth. It can be classified as striated, cardiac, and smooth or as phasic and tonic (responding quickly or gradually to stimulation, respectively). Striated muscle, whose fibres appear striped under a microscope, is responsible for voluntary movement. Most of these muscles are phasic. They are attached to the skeleton and move the body by contracting in response to signals from the central nervous system; contraction is achieved by the sliding of thin filaments (of actin) between thick ones (of myosin); stretch receptors in the tissue provide feedback, allowing smooth motion and fine motor control. The branched fibres of cardiac muscle give it a netlike structure; contraction originates in the heart's muscle tissue itself with a signal from the natural pacemaker; vagus and sympathetic nerves control heart rate. Smooth muscle, the muscle of internal organs and blood vessels, is generally involuntary and tonic; its cells can operate either collectively or individually (in response to separate nerve endings) and have different shapes. Disorders of voluntary muscle cause weakening, atrophy, pain, and twitching. Some systemic diseases (e.g., dermatomyositis, polymyositis) can cause muscle inflammation. Seealso abdominal muscle; muscle tumour; muscular dystrophy; myasthenia gravis.

Learn more about muscle with a free trial on

Any of the muscles of the front and side walls of the abdominal cavity. Three flat layers—the external oblique, internal oblique, and transverse abdominis muscles—extend from each side of the spine between the lower ribs and the hipbone. The abdominal muscles attach to aponeuroses, connective tissue sheaths that merge toward the midline, sheathing the rectus abdominis muscle on each side of the midline. The abdominal muscles support and protect the internal organs and take part in exhaling, coughing, urinating, defecating, childbirth, and motion of the trunk, groin, and lower limbs.

Learn more about abdominal muscle with a free trial on

Former rapids, Tennessee River, northwestern Alabama, U.S. At about 37 mi (60 km) long, it was a navigation hazard but is now submerged under at least 9 ft (3 m) of water by the Wilson, Wheeler, and Pickwick Landing dams, which completely eliminated the rapids. Manufacturing plants and hydroelectric power facilities are administered by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The city of Muscle Shoals (pop., 2000: 11,924) developed from the TVA complex in the Wilson Dam area.

Learn more about Muscle Shoals with a free trial on

Agonist is a classification used to describe a muscle that causes specific movement or possibly several movements to occur through the process of its own contraction. This is typically a term designated for skeletal muscles. Agonists are also referred to, interchangeably, as "prime movers" since they are the muscles being considered that are primarily responsible for generating a specific movement.

For an agonist to be effective as a mover in the skeletal system it must actually cross one or more structure(s) that can move. This is typically where the muscle crosses a joint by way of a connecting tendon. As the myofibrils of a muscle are excited into action and then contract, they will create tension and pull through the tendon and pulling the lever arm of bone on the opposite side of the joint closer to the muscles origin.

See also

Search another word or see muscleon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2014, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature