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Energy production, in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), ceases and lactic acid is produced as a consequence of short-lived anoxic metabolism.Calcium ions diffuse from the extracellular fluid and terminal cisternae into sarcomeres, bind troponins, and cause actin and myosin subunits in the muscle cell to irreversibly bind.The result is a 'stiffened' muscle, which will only become 'falccid' when that muscle breaks down due to decomposition, or is forcibly bent, breaking the bonds between actin and myosin.When muscle glycogen levels are low, such as following intense exercise, rigor mortis will develop faster.The 'classical' signs of death are livor mortis, rigor mortis, and algor mortis, and these are described in more detail below.These reflect ongoing cellular breakdown, and the effects of bacterial/ microbial breakdown, as well as the effect of the environment in which the body lies (eg a chilled body store, a room in a house, the water or buried in soil etc).
The forensic significance of hypostasis is overstated in many textbooks, and was historically used as a means of providing a timetable for the post mortem interval.
Rigor develops at the same time throughout the body, but is detected most rapidly in small muscles, such as around the eyes and mouth.
Whilst authors historically ascribed a 'timetable' to the development of rigor, current opinion is that such a timetable is impossible to construct, given the dependence of the process on many variables.
Detailed pathological dissection of the face and neck in such cases will frequently be able to distinguish such scenarios, but pressure to the face/ neck may not always be capable of being excluded.
Rigor mortis is a temperature-dependent physiochemical phenomenon that occurs in muscle cells following cessation of a supply of oxygen.