Neurobiology of muscle fatigue

J Appl Physiol (1985). 1992 May;72(5):1631-48. doi: 10.1152/jappl.1992.72.5.1631.


Muscle fatigue encompasses a class of acute effects that impair motor performance. The mechanisms that can produce fatigue involve all elements of the motor system, from a failure of the formulation of the descending drive provided by suprasegmental centers to a reduction in the activity of the contractile proteins. We propose four themes that provide a basis for the systematic evaluation of the neural and neuromuscular fatigue mechanisms: 1) task dependency to identify the conditions that activate the various mechanisms; 2) force-fatigability relationship to explore the interaction between the mechanisms that results in a hyperbolic relationship between force and endurance time; 3) muscle wisdom to examine the association among a concurrent decline in force, relaxation rate, and motor neuron discharge that results in an optimization of force; and 4) sense of effort to determine the role of effort in the impairment of performance. On the basis of this perspective with an emphasis on neural mechanisms, we suggest a number of experiments to advance our understanding of the neurobiology of muscle fatigue.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Fatigue / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology*
  • Neurobiology
  • Physical Exertion / physiology