The role of the extrinsic thoracic limb muscles in equine locomotion

J Anat. 2005 Feb;206(2):193-204. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7580.2005.00353.x.


Muscles have two major roles in locomotion: to generate force and to absorb/generate power (do work). Economical force generation is achieved by short-fibred pennate muscle while the maximum power output of a muscle is architecture independent. In this study we tested the hypothesis that there is an anatomical and structural separation between the force-generating anti-gravity muscles and the propulsive (limb/trunk moving) muscles of the equine forelimb. Muscle mass and fascicle length measurements were made on the thoracic limb extrinsic muscles of six fresh horse cadavers. Physiological cross-sectional area and maximum isometric force were then estimated. Maximum power was estimated from muscle volume and published contraction velocity data. The majority of extrinsic forelimb muscles were large with long fascicles arranged in parallel to the long axis of the muscle. Muscles arranged in this way are optimised for doing work. The architecture of serratus ventralis thoracis (SVT) was unique. It had short (48 +/- 17 mm) fascicles, arranged at about 45 degrees to the long axis of the muscle, which would suggest a force-generating, anti-gravity role. The muscle belly of SVT was sandwiched between two broad, thick sheets of aponeurosis. Hence, SVT could make a significant contribution to the overall elastic properties of the thoracic limb.

Publication types

  • Corrected and Republished Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Horses / anatomy & histology
  • Horses / physiology*
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Thorax