Skeletal Muscle Structure

Skeletal muscle structure consists of bundles of muscle fibres which are made up of smaller and smaller elements. Here we explain the structure of skeletal muscle and how musclular contraction works at a cellular level.

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1. Epimysium

The epimysium is a protective covering which surrounds the muscle and holds it all together. It reduces friction between the muscle and surrounding bones and other tissues. The epimysium also extends at either end to form the tendons of the muscle.


2. Fasciculi

Fasciculi are bundles of muscle fibres. The fasciculi of larger muscles have more fibres per bundle and smaller muscles contain less. They range between 10 and 100 fibres per fasciculi. Another connective tissue called the perimisium surrounds groups of fasciculi.


3. Muscle Fibres

Individual muscle fibres are covered in yet another connective tissue known as endomysium. This acts to insulate each fibre. Muscle fibres again vary in size but can be up to 35cm long and 10 micrometers in diameter.

Each muscle fibre has a cell membrane called the Sarcolemma. Beneath this is the Sarcoplasm – a gelatinous fluid which fills most types of cells. Contained within the Sarcoplasm are mitochondria – the powerhouse of any cell, which produce it’s energy.


4. Myofibrils

Myofibrils are cylinder shaped structures found within each muscle fibre. Each muscle fiber contains hundreds or even thousands of them! Myofibrils actually consist of bundles of two proteins called Actin and Myosin which run the length of the muscle fiber and are vital for muscle contraction.

Another important feature for muscle contraction is the Sarcoplasmic Reticulum – a network of channels which surround the myofibrils. Muscle contracting is triggered and stopped by calcium which is stored within these channels.

Transverse tubules pass inwards from the Sacrolemma throughout the Myofibril, through which nerve impulses travel.

Each Myofibril can also be broken down into functional repeating segments along it’s length. These are called Sarcomeres. It is these segments the cause the muscle shortening seen during concentric contractions as the filaments slide over each other.

More on Sliding filament theory


Further reading:

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