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The muscle system consists of muscle tissue. This is the most abundant tissue in the human body. Human body has some 639 separate muscles, which make up about half of the body weight. Movements in humans are brought about by the muscle tissue. This tissue consists of long, narrow, highly specialized cells called muscle fibres. The latter have two distinguishing properties: contractabilility and electrical excitability. The electrical excitability is due to the energy stored in an electrical potential difference across the plasma membrane. A chemical transmitter released at a neuromuscular junction (synapse between a motor neuron and a muscle fibre) excites the muscle fibre’s membrane which depolarizes in response. The excitation in the membrane initiates contraction in the muscle fibre. The study of muscles is called myology (G. mus = muscle, logos = study). ALL-OR-NONE PRINCIPLE A nerve fibre connects to a muscle fibre by one or more points called the motor end plates. It is at the motor end plate that a nerve impulse stimulates a muscle fibre. The motor units function on the “all-or-none principle” when stimulated, i.e., the minimal stimulus which causes contraction causes a complete contraction, a stronger stimulus will not cause a greater contraction. However, the entire muscle does not obey this law, because the extent of its contraction depends upon the number of its motor units which are contracting at any particular time. A few motor units in action cause a feeble contraction, many units in operation produce a stronger contraction. Thus, a gross muscle may show many grades of contraction, depending upon the amount of stimulation. It is a common observation that less exertion is needed to lift a sheet of paper than a book. The ability of the nervous system to progressively increase the strength of contraction by activating more and more of the motor neurons controlling the muscle is called recruiting of motor neurons. THRESHOLD STIMULUS A specific minimum strength of the nerve impulse or some artificial stimulus required for exciting a muscle fibre to contract is called threshold stimulus of that muscle fibre. A nerve impulse or other stimulus below the threshold intensity of a muscle fibre fails to bring about its contraction. The threshold stimulus varies from fibre to fibre even in the same muscle. SINGLE MUSCLE TWITCH In a living animal, the muscles contract on stimulation by nerve impulses. In the laboratory, artificial stimuli, such as electric shock, application of acid, contact with a flame, bring about their contraction. A striated muscle responds to a single stimulus, say a single electric shock, with a single quick contraction. This single isolated contraction of a muscle fibre caused by a single nerve impulse or artificial stimulus is called muscle twitch. Immediately after a twitch, the muscle fibre relaxes.

TETANUS The simple muscle twitch is a laboratory phenomenon. In a living animal, the muscles do not normally contract in single twitches. Instead, they receive continuous trains of nerve impulses in rapid succession and undergo a smooth, sustained contraction as relaxation cannot occur between successive contractions. This state of sustained contraction due to many quickly repeated stimuli is known as tetanus, or tetanization. The various motor units are stimulated in rotation, and this makes the various muscle fibres contract and relax in rotation. With the result, the muscle as a whole remains partially contracted. The strength of the contraction depends on the number of muscle fibres that contract at any given time. It is because of tetanus that we can hold a book for a long time to read, and can carry a cup of tea across a room without a mishap. MUSCLE TONUS (TONE) All apparently relaxed skeletal muscles always remain in partial contraction as long as their nerves are intact. This state of sustained partial contraction is called muscle tonus or tone. It is a sort of mild tetanus. The tone is maintained by a constant flow of nerve impulses to the muscle fibres. A muscle under slight tension can react more rapidly and can contract more strongly than one which is completely relaxed. Almost all our daily activities are carried out by titanic contractions of muscles. Tetanus is necessary to maintain posture and form of the body.

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