In previous installments of our Medical Interpreting series, we’ve covered the skeletal, circulatory, and respiratory systems. Now, let’s talk about muscles. As a beginning interpreter, you’ll frequently encounter physical and occupational therapy appointments. These appointments are excellent for building your skills as an interpreter. They require only basic medical vocabulary and simple instruction sentences. However, it’s still important to prepare for the assignment by understanding the role of the muscular system and its components.

Medical Interpreting: The Muscular System

The Muscular System: An Overview

The muscular system consists of skeletal, smooth, and cardiac muscles. It permits movement, strength, blood circulation, posture maintenance, and temperature regulation/heat production. Muscles can be either controlled through the nervous system or completely autonomous, such as cardiac muscle.

What are muscles?

There are three types of muscle present in the human body:

  1. Skeletal Muscle: Skeletal muscle is a form of striated muscle tissue, meaning that it grows in lines. More accurately, it grows in long, tubular cells called muscle fibers, composed of sarcomeres and myofibrils. These are arranged into bunches known as fascicles. Skeletal muscles are voluntary muscles. They’re controlled by the nervous system and move as a response to “action potential:” neural stimulation. The muscle fibers are attached to bones by bundles of collagen, known as tendons. There are roughly 639 skeletal muscles in the body.
  2. Cardiac muscle: Cardiac muscle is another form of striated muscle. It differs from skeletal muscle in that the muscle fibers are attached to each other, rather than to bone. Cardiac muscle is an involuntary muscle, meaning that it works automatically. Cardiac muscle cells, also known as cardiomyocytes, contract to pump the heart. Cardiac muscle cells contain many mitochondria, more than skeletal muscle. The mitochondria produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP) at high quantities so that the muscles are resistant to fatigue.
  3. Smooth muscle: Smooth muscle is an involuntary, non-striated muscle. Smooth muscle cells are found in the walls of hollow organs, including the intestines, stomach, bladder, and uterus. They’re also found in passageways–such as veins, arteries, and the tracts of the respiratory, urinary, and reproductive systems.

Muscular System Specialists

Specialists who work with muscles are called Rheumatologists. Rheumatologists work not only with muscles but with tendons, joints, bones, and nerves that are experiencing inflammation. As we mentioned in the introduction, you’ll likely also work with physical and occupational therapists. They work not only with muscles, but with bones, joints, tendons, and nerves. Their goal is to improve quality of life, range of motion, strength, and recovery. There are a number of common muscular injuries you may encounter:

  • Muscle strains: muscle strains are contraction-related injuries in which muscle fibers tear due to extensive stress. They most often occur during acceleration or deceleration, like sprinting or jumping. They range from mild to severe. A mild strain indicates that only a few fibers have been torn. A severe strain is categorized by a complete tear or rupture into two distinct parts. They can occur either from the tendon or in the middle of the muscle.
  • Muscle contusions: Contusions, or bruises, are usually the direct result of a hard blow to the muscle. This causes muscle damage and bleeding, forming a hematoma visible beneath the skin as discoloration.
  • Muscle cramps: Cramps are caused by involuntary over-shortening or contractions. They’re categorized by mild to excruciating pain and often an inability to move the affected limb. They typically occur in the thighs, calves, hamstrings, or feet. Though they’re painful, they are not considered dangerous to long-term muscle use. They typically clear on their own within minutes, but sometimes take several days for pain to completely subside.
  • Muscle Soreness: Muscle soreness is most common during exercise. If it occurs after exercise, it’s referred to as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS. DOMS is classified as a grade 1 muscle strain injury. It is most commonly seen in individuals who exercise sporadically, or without proper warm-ups. The soreness is thought to be a result of inflammation that occurs during the muscle repair process.

Medical Terminology for Interpreters: An eLearning Course by Global Arena

Are you interested in anatomy and physiology? Are you an interpreter, looking to build your foundational knowledge before attempting more complex medical assignments? Global Arena’s eLearning course, Medical Terminology for Interpreters, gives basic medical terminology and understanding for all interpreting skill levels. It provides a basic overview of common providers, appointments, scans, procedures, and the bodily systems. You can complete it at your own pace, and it requires no downloads. You can log into your account from any device and pick up where you left off.

The course is timed to last three hours and includes a mix of interactive, informative, and review slides. Upon successful completion of all reviews, you’ll receive a Certificate of Course Completion.

The certificate is worth three CEUs. The course meets CCHI and NBCMI standards for interpreter training and counts towards your credit hours for exam pre-requisites. You’ll also receive our Medical Terminology glossary, complete with spaces to add vocabulary in your target language. The course is updated regularly, and registration includes lifetime access to all new information and materials.

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