Skeletal muscle, attached to bones, is responsible for skeletal movements. The peripheral portion of the central nervous system (CNS) controls the skeletal muscles. Thus, these muscles are under conscious, or voluntary, control. The basic unit is the muscle fiber with many nuclei. These muscle fibers are striated (having transverse streaks) and each acts independently of neighboring muscle fibers.
Smooth muscle, found in the walls of the hollow internal organs such as blood vessels, the gastrointestinal tract, bladder, and uterus, is under control of the autonomic nervous system. Smooth muscle cannot be controlled consciously and thus acts involuntarily. The non-striated (smooth) muscle cell is spindle-shaped and has one central nucleus. Smooth muscle contracts slowly and rhythmically.
Cardiac muscle, found in the walls of the heart, is also under control of the autonomic nervous system. The cardiac muscle cell has one central nucleus, like smooth muscle, but it also is striated, like skeletal muscle. The cardiac muscle cell is rectangular in shape. The contraction of cardiac muscle is involuntary, strong, and rhythmical.
Smooth and cardiac muscle will be discussed in detail with respect to their appropriate systems. This unit mainly covers the skeletal muscular system.