There are more than 650 different muscles in your body, and each and every one is controlled by your nervous system.
Understanding how the nervous system interacts with and controls various types of muscles can help you visualize what is happening with each and every move you make, whether you’re lifting heavy weights or you’re simply walking down the sidewalk.
Three Types of Muscles
All 650 muscles in your body fall into one of three categories.
- Skeletal Muscles – These muscles are the ones you control voluntarily with conscious thought. For example, when you take a step, your nervous system tells your brain to contract and release muscles to propel you forward. These are also called striated muscles.
- Smooth Muscles – Smooth muscles are also known as visceral muscle. These muscles are connected to organs such as the intestines and uterus, and they operate of their own accord without any conscious thought at all.
- Cardiac Muscle – The heart gets its own category because it is neither a skeletal or smooth muscle. Rather, it has one specialized function, and that’s to pump blood throughout your body.
Whether you voluntarily cause your muscles to contract or your body does it for you, it’s all under the control of your nervous system.
What Makes Up the Nervous System?
The most important components of the nervous system are the brain and the spinal cord. Inside your brain are millions of neurons that are constantly communicating back and forth with one another via chemicals called neurotransmitters.
Your spinal cord, then, is like a superhighway through which electrical signals from your brain travel. Your nerves are the smallest branches of your nervous system.
They’re connected to all of your muscles and organs – smooth, visceral and cardiac – and they tell those muscles when to contract and when to relax so that your body can function properly.
How Does the Nervous System Make Your Muscles Move?
Everything you do, from smiling to taking a step, requires coordination between multiple muscle groups. When you think about shaking someone’s hand, for example, your brain, which is part of your nervous system, sends signals down your spinal cord.
Then, those signals travel through the nerves which stimulate the muscles you want to control to contract. As a result, you are able to reach forward, grasp someone’s hand, and shake it firmly. This complex process is made possible by your nervous system.
That’s why your heart continues to beat even if you don’t think about it, and it’s how you continue to breathe without consciously making your lungs expand.
When it comes to your body, chances are good that you spend far more time thinking about your muscles than your nervous system. However, if it wasn’t for your nervous system, especially your brain and spinal cord, your muscles would be unable to contract and grow.
That’s why it’s important to make sure you’re getting the nutrients you need; they’ll help keep your brain, your spine, and your nerves strong.