In Depth: Abdomen
The muscles of the abdomen protect vital organs underneath and provide structure for the spine. These muscles help the body bend at the waist.
The major muscles of the abdomen include the rectus abdominis in front, the external obliques at the sides, and the latissimus dorsi muscles in the back.
The major organs of the abdomen include the small intestine, large intestine, and stomach. Together, these three turn nutrients into usable energy, as well as help dispose of solid waste.
Major organs that help filter contaminants out of the body are also in the abdominal region. These include the liver and kidneys.
The liver is located in the upper right-hand part of the abdominal cavity, under the ribs. Although it has many functions, the liver is best known for processing blood, separating waste from nutrients.
The gallbladder is a tiny sack under the liver that holds extra bile made by the liver until it is pumped into the small intestine. Bile helps break down fat.
The pancreas is yet another gland that produces enzymes to help your body digest proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. It also makes hormones that help regulate the distribution of nutrients, including sugar.
Most people have two kidneys, which are located near the back of the body, under the ribs, on each side of the spine. Kidneys filter waste out of the bloodstream, which is passed out of the body as urine. The kidneys also help regulate levels of electrolytes, like salt and potassium, and produce certain hormones that play various roles throughout the body.
On top of the kidneys are the suprarenal (adrenal) glands. These synthesize and secrete hormones that help the kidneys to conserve sodium, thus conserving water. They also play a role in supporting the body’s sexual functions, among other things.
The abdominal muscles stretch during pregnancy to allow room for the fetus to grow. The rapid growth can sometimes cause stretch marks on the skin, but these can be prevented or reversed with specialized skin creams.
Key bones in the abdominal area include the base of the ribcage and the lumbar spine in the lower back.
Because of the important organs situated in the abdominal area, many health concerns stem from this area. Some include:
- Digestive problems in the stomach or intestines
- Peptic ulcers
- Pulled or strained abdominal muscles
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Colon cancer