BACKGROUND: When the demand placed on the respiratory system is increased, the abdominal muscles become vigorously active to achieve expiration and facilitate subsequent inspiration. Abdominal muscle function could limit ventilatory capacity and a method to detect abdominal muscle fatigue would be of value. The maximum relaxation rate (MRR) of skeletal muscle has been used as an early index of the onset of the fatiguing process and precedes failure of force generation. The aim of this study was to measure MRR of abdominal muscles and to investigate whether it slows after maximum isocapnic ventilation (MIV). METHODS: Five normal subjects were studied. Each performed short sharp expiratory efforts against a 3 mm orifice before and immediately after a two minute MIV. Gastric pressure (PGA) was recorded and MRR (% pressure fall/10 ms) for each PGA trace was determined. RESULTS: Before MIV the mean (SD) maximum PGA MRR for the five subjects was 7.1 (0.8)% peak pressure fall/10 ms. Following MIV mean PGA MRR was decreased by 30% (range 25-35%), returning to control values within 5-10 minutes. CONCLUSIONS: The MRR of the abdominal muscles, measured from PGA, is numerically similar to that described for the diaphragm and other skeletal muscles. After two minutes of maximal isocapnic ventilation abdominal muscle MRR slows, indicating that these muscles are sufficiently heavily loaded to initiate the fatiguing process.
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