The objective of this investigation was to study impaired physical mobility and the resulting skeletal muscle atrophy. An animal model was used to study morphological adaptations of the soleus and plantaris muscles to decreased loading induced by hindlimb suspension of an adult rat for 7, 14, and 28 consecutive days. Alterations in weight, skeletal muscle growth, and changes in fiber type composition were studied in synergistic plantar flexors of the rat hindlimb. Body weight and the soleus muscle mass to body mass ratio demonstrated significant progressive atrophy over th 28-day experimental period with the most significant changes occurring in the first 7 days of hindlimb suspension. Hindlimb suspension produced atrophy of Type I and Type lla muscle fibers as demonstrated by significant decreases in fiber cross-sectional area (γm2). These latter changes account for the loss of contractile force production reported in the rat following hindlimb unloading. When compared to traditional models of hindlimb suspension and immobilization, the ISC model produces a less severe atrophy while maintaining animal mobility and health. We conclude that it is the preferred animal model to address nursing questions of impaired physical mobility. © 1993 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.