The diaphragm is a thin, but strong, dome-shaped muscular membrane that separates the abdominal and thoracic cavities. The abdominal wall is elastic in nature. The abdominal cavity is filled with soft, watery tissues.
a. Inhalation. As the diaphragm contracts, the dome flattens and the diaphragm descends. This increases the depth (vertical diameter) of the thoracic cavity and thus increases its volume. This decreases air pressure within the thoracic cavity. The greater air pressure outside the body then forces air into the lungs.
b. Exhalation. As the diaphragm relaxes, the elastic abdominal wall forces the diaphragm back up by pushing the watery tissues of the abdomen against the underside of the relaxed diaphragm. The dome extends upward. The process of inhalation is thus reversed.
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