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J Physiol. 2007 Oct 1;584(Pt 1):261-70. Epub 2007 Aug 9.

The effect of lung volume on the co-ordinated recruitment of scalene and sternomastoid muscles in humans.

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  • 1Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute, Barker Street, Randwick, NSW, 2031, Australia.


The human scalenes are obligatory inspiratory muscles that have a greater mechanical advantage than sternomastoid, an accessory muscle. This study determined scalene and sternomastoid recruitment during voluntary inspiratory tasks, and whether this activity varied with lung volume, when feedback from the lungs and inspiratory muscles would differ. If afferent feedback has a major role in determining the recruitment of the scalenes and sternomastoid, then at each lung volume, activity would be altered. Intramuscular EMG from scalene and sternomastoid muscles, and oesophageal pressure were recorded while subjects (n = 7) performed inspiratory isovolumetric ramps to maximal inspiratory pressure (MIP) and dynamic inspirations from functional residual capacity (FRC) to total lung capacity (TLC). The static inspiratory ramps were repeated at three lung volumes: FRC, FRC + tidal volume, and TLC. To determine the profile of inspiratory activation, i.e. the initial and ongoing recruitment of the muscles, the root mean square of the EMG was measured throughout the tasks. Scalene was recruited early, and EMG increased with pressure, reaching a plateau at 80% MIP. In contrast, sternomastoid activity began later, but then increased with pressure from 20 to 100% MIP. Similar profiles of activation occurred at all three lung volumes (n.s.). The ratio of sternomastoid to scalene EMG was also the same irrespective of the initial lung volume (n.s.). In dynamic inspirations, scalene and sternomastoid activation had similar stereotypical profiles to the static tasks, but scalene EMG was 15-40% greater (P < 0.05). Sternomastoid activation was the same in both tasks (n.s.). These results suggest that in voluntary tasks, scalene and sternomastoid are recruited in the order of their mechanical advantages, and that alterations in feedback related to changes in lung volume failed to alter their activation. Thus, in humans, the mechanism responsible for the differential activation of these two inspiratory muscles has an element that is preset.

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