Patterns of Fascicle Organization


Related Posts:

Source: OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology

OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology

Skeletal muscle is enclosed in connective tissue scaffolding at three levels. Each muscle fiber (cell) is covered by endomysium and the entire muscle is covered by epimysium. When a group of muscle fibers is “bundled” as a unit within the whole muscle by an additional covering of a connective tissue called perimysium, that bundled group of muscle fibers is called a fascicle. Fascicle arrangement by perimysia is correlated to the force generated by a muscle; it also affects the range of motion of the muscle. Based on the patterns of fascicle arrangement, skeletal muscles can be classified in several ways. What follows are the most common fascicle arrangements.

Parallel muscles have fascicles that are arranged in the same direction as the long axis of the muscle. The majority of skeletal muscles in the body have this type of organization. Some parallel muscles are flat sheets that expand at the ends to make broad attachments. Other parallel muscles are rotund with tendons at one or both ends. Muscles that seem to be plump have a large mass of tissue located in the middle of the muscle, between the insertion and the origin, which is known as the central body. A more common name for this muscle is belly. When a muscle contracts, the contractile fibers shorten it to an even larger bulge. For example, extend and then flex your biceps brachii muscle; the large, middle section is the belly. When a parallel muscle has a central, large belly that is spindle-shaped, meaning it tapers as it extends to its origin and insertion, it sometimes is called fusiform.

Circular muscles are also called sphincters. When they relax, the sphincters’ concentrically arranged bundles of muscle fibers increase the size of the opening, and when they contract, the size of the opening shrinks to the point of closure. The orbicularis oris muscle is a circular muscle that goes around the mouth. When it contracts, the oral opening becomes smaller, as when puckering the lips for whistling. Another example is the orbicularis oculi, one of which surrounds each eye. Consider, for example, the names of the two orbicularis muscles (orbicularis oris and oribicularis oculi), where part of the first name of both muscles is the same. The first part of orbicularis, orb (orb = “circular”), is a reference to a round or circular structure; it may also make one think of orbit, such as the moon’s path around the earth. The word oris (oris = “oral”) refers to the oral cavity, or the mouth. The word oculi (ocular = “eye”) refers to the eye.

There are other muscles throughout the body named by their shape or location. The deltoid is a large, triangular-shaped muscle that covers the shoulder. It is so-named because the Greek letter delta looks like a triangle. The rectus abdomis (rector = “straight”) is the straight muscle in the anterior wall of the abdomen, while the rectus femoris is the straight muscle in the anterior compartment of the thigh.

When a muscle has a widespread expansion over a sizable area, but then the fascicles come to a single, common attachment point, the muscle is called convergent. The attachment point for a convergent muscle could be a tendon, an aponeurosis (a flat, broad tendon), or a raphe (a very slender tendon). The large muscle on the chest, the pectoralis major, is an example of a convergent muscle because it converges on the greater tubercle of the humerus via a tendon. The temporalis muscle of the cranium is another.

Pennate muscles (penna = “feathers”) blend into a tendon that runs through the central region of the muscle for its whole length, somewhat like the quill of a feather with the muscle arranged similar to the feathers. Due to this design, the muscle fibers in a pennate muscle can only pull at an angle, and as a result, contracting pennate muscles do not move their tendons very far. However, because a pennate muscle generally can hold more muscle fibers within it, it can produce relatively more tension for its size. There are three subtypes of pennate muscles.

In a unipennate muscle, the fascicles are located on one side of the tendon. The extensor digitorum of the forearm is an example of a unipennate muscle. A bipennate muscle has fascicles on both sides of the tendon. In some pennate muscles, the muscle fibers wrap around the tendon, sometimes forming individual fascicles in the process. This arrangement is referred to as multipennate. A common example is the deltoid muscle of the shoulder, which covers the shoulder but has a single tendon that inserts on the deltoid tuberosity of the humerus.

Because of fascicles, a portion of a multipennate muscle like the deltoid can be stimulated by the nervous system to change the direction of the pull. For example, when the deltoid muscle contracts, the arm abducts (moves away from midline in the sagittal plane), but when only the anterior fascicle is stimulated, the arm will abduct and flex (move anteriorly at the shoulder joint).


Betts, J. G., Young, K. A., Wise, J. A., Johnson, E., Poe, B., Kruse, D. H., … DeSaix, P. (n.d.). Anatomy and Physiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: