Coordinated Action of Muscle Groups

The movement produced by a muscle is called its action. Skeletal muscles seldom act independently; instead, they function in groups whose combined actions produce the coordinated motion of a joint. Muscles can be classified into at least four categories according to their actions, but it must be stressed that a particular muscle can act in a certain way during one joint action and in a different way during other actions of the same joint:

  1. The prime mover (agonist) is the muscle that produces most of the force during a particular joint action. In flexing the elbow, for example, the prime mover is the biceps brachii.
  2. A synergist10 (SIN -ur-jist) is a muscle that aids the prime mover. Several synergists acting on a joint can produce more power than a single larger muscle. The brachialis, for example, lies deep to the biceps brachii and works with it as a synergist to flex the elbow. The actions of a prime mover and its

9penna = feather l0syn = together + erg = work

Saladin: Anatomy & I 10. The Muscular System I Text I © The McGraw-Hill

Physiology: The Unity of Companies, 2003 Form and Function, Third Edition

Chapter 10 The Muscular System 329

Chapter 10 The Muscular System 329

Fascicle Orientation Muscle
Figure 10.3 Classification of Muscles According to Fascicle Orientation. The fascicles are the "grain" visible in each illustration.

synergist are not necessarily identical and redundant. If the prime mover worked alone at a joint, it might cause rotation or other undesirable movements of a bone. A synergist may stabilize a joint and restrict these movements, or modify the direction of a movement, so that the action of the prime mover is more coordinated and specific.

  1. An antagonist11 is a muscle that opposes the prime mover. In some cases, it relaxes to give the prime mover almost complete control over an action. More often, however, the antagonist moderates the speed or range of the agonist, thus preventing excessive movement and joint injury. If you extend your arm to reach out and pick up a cup of tea, your triceps brachii is the prime mover of elbow extension and your biceps brachii acts as an antagonist to slow the extension and stop it at the appropriate point. If you extend your arm rapidly to throw a dart, the biceps must be quite relaxed. The biceps and triceps brachii represent an antagonistic pair of muscles that act on opposite sides of a joint (see fig. 10.2). We need antagonistic pairs at a joint because a muscle can only pull, not push—a single muscle cannot flex and extend the elbow, for example. Which member of the pair acts as the agonist depends on the motion under consideration. In flexion of the elbow, the biceps is the agonist and the triceps is the antagonist; when the elbow is extended, their roles are reversed.
  2. A fixator is a muscle that prevents a bone from moving. To fix a bone means to hold it steady, allowing another muscle attached to it to pull on something else. For example, consider again the flexion of the elbow by the biceps brachii. The biceps originates on the scapula and inserts on the ant = against + agonist = competitor radius. The scapula is loosely attached to the axial skeleton, so when the biceps contracts, it seems that it would pull the scapula laterally. There are fixator muscles attached to the scapula, however, that contract at the same time. By holding the scapula firmly in place, they ensure that the force generated by the biceps moves the radius rather than the scapula.

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  • katie
    Which muscle will be the prime mover when throwing a dart?
    4 years ago
  • gildo sabbatini
    What coordinates muscle action?
    6 months ago

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