Muscle Anatomy

The anatomy of muscles includes both gross anatomy, comprising all the muscles of an organism, and, on the other hand, microanatomy, which comprises the structures of a single muscle.

Muscle tissue is a soft tissue, and is one of the four fundamental types of tissue present in animals. There are three types of muscle tissue recognized in vertebrates:

Cardiac and skeletal muscles are "striated" in that they contain sarcomeres and are packed into highly regular arrangements of bundles; smooth muscle has neither. While skeletal muscles are arranged in regular, parallel bundles, cardiac muscle connects at branching, irregular angles (called intercalated discs). Striated muscle contracts and relaxes in short, intense bursts, whereas smooth muscle sustains longer or even near-permanent contractions.

Skeletal (voluntary) muscle is further divided into two broad types: slow twitch and fast twitch:

The density of mammalian skeletal muscle tissue is about 1.06 kg/liter. This can be contrasted with the density of adipose tissue (fat), which is 0.9196 kg/liter. This makes muscle tissue approximately 15% denser than fat tissue.


Skeletal muscles are sheathed by a tough layer of connective tissue called the epimysium. The epimysium anchors muscle tissue to tendons at each end, where the epimysium becomes thicker and collagenous. It also protects muscles from friction against other muscles and bones. Within the epimysium are multiple bundles called fascicles, each of which contains 10 to 100 or more muscle fibers collectively sheathed by a perimysium. Besides surrounding each fascicle, the perimysium is a pathway for nerves and the flow of blood within the muscle. The threadlike muscle fibers are the individual muscle cells (myocytes), and each cell is encased within its own endomysium of collagen fibers. Thus, the overall muscle consists of fibers (cells) that are bundled into fascicles, which are themselves grouped together to form muscles. At each level of bundling, a collagenous membrane surrounds the bundle, and these membranes support muscle function both by resisting passive stretching of the tissue and by distributing forces applied to the muscle. Scattered throughout the muscles are muscle spindles that provide sensory feedback information to the central nervous system.

This same bundles-within-bundles structure is replicated within the muscle cells. Within the cells of the muscle are myofibrils, which themselves are bundles of protein filaments. The term "myofibril" should not be confused with "myofiber", which is a simply another name for a muscle cell. Myofibrils are complex strands of several kinds of protein filaments organized together into repeating units called sarcomeres. The striated appearance of both skeletal and cardiac muscle results from the regular pattern of sarcomeres within their cells. Although both of these types of muscle contain sarcomeres, the fibers in cardiac muscle are typically branched to form a network. Cardiac muscle fibers are interconnected by intercalated discs, giving that tissue the appearance of a syncytium. The filaments in a sarcomere are composed of actin and myosin.

Gross anatomy

The gross anatomy of a muscle is the most important indicator of its role in the body. One particularly important aspect of gross anatomy of muscles is pennation or lack thereof. In most muscles, all the fibers are oriented in the same direction, running in a line from the origin to the insertion. In pennate muscles, the individual fibers are oriented at an angle relative to the line of action, attaching to the origin and insertion tendons at each end. Because the contracting fibers are pulling at an angle to the overall action of the muscle, the change in length is smaller, but this same orientation allows for more fibers (thus more force) in a muscle of a given size. Pennate muscles are usually found where their length change is less important than maximum force, such as the rectus femoris.

Skeletal muscle is arranged in discrete muscles, an example of which is the biceps brachii. The tough, fibrous epimysium of skeletal muscle is both connected to and continuous with the tendons. In turn, the tendons connect to the periosteum layer surrounding the bones, permitting the transfer of force from the muscles to the skeleton. Together, these fibrous layers, along with tendons and ligaments, constitute the deep fascia of the body.

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