Challenging the role of pH in skeletal muscle fatigue

Phys Ther. 2001 Dec;81(12):1897-903.


Muscle fatigue is frequently defined as a temporary loss in force- or torque-generating ability because of recent, repetitive muscle contraction (1). The development of this temporary loss of force is a complex process and results from the failure of a number of processes, including motor unit recruitment and firing rate, chemical transmission across the neuromuscular junction, propagation of the action potential along the muscle membrane and T tubules, Ca2+ release from the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR), Ca2+ binding to troponin C, and cross-bridge cycling (for detailed reviews, see Bigland-Ritchie and Woods(1), McLester(2), and Favero(3)). Muscle fatigue may limit the time a person can stand, the distance a person can ambulate, or the number of stairs a person can ascend or descend. In practical terms, however, we cannot know what actually leads to a decline in function for a given patient. For a phenomenon that may have profound clinical implications, muscle fatigue often receives inadequate attention in physiology textbooks, many of which contain a page or less of information on the entire topic (4-8). In addition, many textbooks report that muscle fatigue is mainly the result of a decrease in pH within the muscle cell due to a rise in hydrogen ion concentration ([H+]) resulting from anaerobic metabolism and the accumulation of lactic acid (6-8). Recent literature, however, contradicts this assertion (9-10). The purpose of this update, therefore, is to provide a brief review of the role of pH in the development of muscle fatigue.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Muscle Fatigue / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*