Apr 6, 2014
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Muscular tissue is divided, according to its function, into three main groups: voluntary muscle, involuntary muscle, and skeletal muscle – of which the first is under control of the will, whilst the latter two discharge their functions independently. The term ‘striped muscle’ is often given to voluntary muscle, because under the microscope all the voluntary muscles show a striped appearance, whilst involuntary muscle is, in the main, unstriped or plain. Heart muscle is partially striped, while certain muscles of the throat, and two small muscles inside the ear, not controllable by willpower, are also striped.

Structure of muscle Skeletal or voluntary muscle forms the bulk of the body’s musculature and contains more than 600 such muscles. They are classified according to their methods of action. A flexor muscle closes a joint, an extensor opens it; an abductor moves a body part outwards, an adductor moves it in; a depressor lowers a body part and an elevator raises it; while a constrictor (sphincter) muscle surrounds an orifice, closing and opening it. Each muscle is enclosed in a sheath of fibrous tissue, known as fascia or epimysium, and, from this, partitions of fibrous tissue, known as perimysium, run into the substance of the muscle, dividing it up into small bundles. Each of these bundles consists in turn of a collection of fibres, which form the units of the muscle. Each fibre is about 50 micrometres in thickness and ranges in length from a few millimetres to 300 millimetres. If the fibre is cut across and examined under a high-powered microscope, it is seen to be further divided into fibrils. Each fibre is enclosed in an elastic sheath of its own, which allows it to lengthen and shorten, and is known as the sarcolemma. Within the sarcolemma lie numerous nuclei belonging to the muscle fibre, which was originally developed from a simple cell. To the sarcolemma, at either end, is attached a minute bundle of connective-tissue fibres which unites the muscle fibre to its neighbours, or to one of the connective-tissue partitions in the muscle, and by means of these connections the fibre affects muscle contraction. Between the muscle fibres, and enveloped in a sheath of connective tissue, lie here and there special structures known as muscle-spindles. Each of these contains thin muscle fibres, numerous nuclei, and the endings of sensory nerves. (See TOUCH.) The heart muscle comprises short fibres which communicate with their neighbours via short branches and have no sarcolemma.

Plain or unstriped muscle is found in the following positions: the inner and middle coats of the STOMACH and INTESTINE; the ureters (see URETER) and URINARY BLADDER; the TRACHEA and bronchial tubes; the ducts of glands; the GALL-BLADDER; the UTERUS and FALLOPIAN TUBES; the middle coat of the blood and lymph vessels; the iris and ciliary muscle of the EYE; the dartos muscle of the SCROTUM; and in association with the various glands and hairs in the SKIN. The fibres are very much smaller than those of striped muscle, although they vary greatly in size. Each has one or more oval nuclei and a delicate sheath of sarcolemma enveloping it. The fibres are grouped in bundles, much as are the striped fibres, but they adhere to one another by cement material, not by the tendon bundles found in voluntary muscle.

Development of muscle All the muscles of the developing individual arise from the central layer (mesoderm) of the EMBRYO, each fibre taking origin from a single cell. Later on in life, muscles have the power both of increasing in size – as the result of use, for example, in athletes – and also of healing, after parts of them have been destroyed by injury. An example of the great extent to which unstriped muscle can develop to meet the demands made on it is the uterus, whose muscular wall develops so much during pregnancy that the organ increases from the weight of 30–40 g (1–1••• oz.) to a weight of around 1 kg (2 lb.), decreasing again to its former small size in the course of a month after childbirth.

Physiology of contraction A muscle is an elaborate chemico-physical system for producing heat and mechanical work. The total energy liberated by a contracting muscle can be exactly measured. From 25–30 per cent of the total energy expended is used in mechanical work. The heat of contracting muscle makes an important contribution to the maintenance of the heat of the body. (See also MYOGLOBIN.)

The energy of muscular contraction is derived from a complicated series of chemical reactions. Complex substances are broken down and built up again, supplying each other with energy for this purpose. The first reaction is the breakdown of adenyl-pyrophosphate into phosphoric acid and adenylic acid (derived from nucleic acid); this supplies the immediate energy for contraction. Next phosphocreatine breaks down into creatine and phosphoric acid, giving energy for the resynthesis of adenyl-pyrophosphate. Creatine is a normal nitrogenous constituent of muscle. Then glycogen through the intermediary stage of sugar bound to phosphate breaks down into lactic acid to supply energy for the resynthesis of phosphocreatine. Finally part of the lactic acid is oxidised to supply energy for building up the rest of the lactic acid into glycogen again. If there is not enough oxygen, lactic acid accumulates and fatigue results.

All of the chemical changes are mediated by the action of several enzymes (see ENZYME).

Involuntary muscle has several peculiarities of contraction. In the heart, rhythmicality is an important feature – one beat appearing to be, in a sense, the cause of the next beat. Tonus is a character of all muscle, but particularly of unstriped muscle in some localities, as in the walls of arteries.

Fatigue occurs when a muscle is made to act for some time and is due to the accumulation of waste products, especially sarcolactic acid (see LACTIC ACID). These substances affect the end-plates of the nerve controlling the muscle, and so prevent destructive overaction of the muscle. As they are rapidly swept away by the blood, the muscle, after a rest (and particularly if the rest is accompanied by massage or by gentle contractions to quicken the circulation) recovers rapidly from the fatigue. Muscular activity over the whole body causes prolonged fatigue which is remedied by rest to allow for metabolic balance to be re-established.

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Medical Dictionary

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