To determine whether patients with chronic airflow limitation have a specific alteration in skeletal muscle performance, the strength and endurance of inspiratory and limb muscles were compared in 11 patients with chronic airflow limitation and 11 control subjects during maximal voluntary contractions. Peak inspiratory pressure at observed functional residual capacity (FRC) was significantly less in the patients than in the control subjects (mean 72 (SD 25) v 93 (21) cm H2O), though only two patients had low maximal pressures across a wide volume range. Maximal voluntary torque of the elbow flexor muscles was also reduced in the patients but the difference was not significant (60 (17) v 72 (18) Nm). During the endurance sequence of 18 maximal voluntary contractions (10 s duration, 5 s rest interval) the decline in peak and average force was less for the inspiratory muscles than for the elbow flexors in both groups. Inspiratory muscle endurance was slightly greater in the patients with chronic airflow limitation than in the control subjects, whereas limb muscle endurance was slightly impaired in the patients. In three patients with chronic airflow limitation, two of whom had low maximal inspiratory pressures at FRC, the ability to drive the diaphragm voluntarily was examined by stimulating the phrenic nerves during maximal inspiratory efforts. Each patient was capable of full activation of the diaphragm during the maximal inspiratory efforts. These results suggest that the relative preservation of inspiratory muscle performance in patients with chronic airflow limitation may be an adaptive response to respiratory "loading."
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