Skeletal muscles are usually arranged so that the ends of a muscle are attached to bones on each side of a joint. Thus, a muscle usually extends across a joint. The type of movement produced depends upon the type of joint and the locations of the muscle attachments.

Origin and Insertion

During contraction, a bone to which one end of the muscle is attached moves, but the bone to which the other end is attached does not. The movable attachment of a muscle is called the insertion, and the immovable attachment is called the origin. When a muscle contracts, the insertion is pulled toward the origin.

Consider the biceps brachii in figure above. It has two origins, and both are attached to the scapula. The insertion is on the radius, and the muscle lies along the anterior surface of the humerus. When the biceps brachii contracts, the insertion is pulled toward the origin, which results in the flexion of the forearm at the elbow.

Most muscle contractions are isotonic contractions, which cause movement at a joint. Walking and breathing are examples. However, some contractions may not produce movement but only increase tension within a muscle. Contractions that maintain body posture are good examples. Such contractions are isometric contractions.

Muscle Interactions

Muscles function in groups rather than singly, and the groups are arranged to provide opposing movements. For example, if one group of muscles produces flexion, the opposing group produces extension. A group of muscles producing an action are called agonists, and the opposing group of muscles are called antagonists. When agonists contract, antagonists must relax, and vice versa, for movement to occur. If both groups contract simultaneously, the movable body part remains rigid. Figure above illustrates how the biceps brachii is the agonist of forearm flexion, while the triceps brachii is the antagonist.