Last reviewed February 27, 2013
When I first learned where the stomach really was, I was a bit surprised. I'd always thought it was just behind the "belly button" (technically, the umbilicus). In fact, it lies much higher than that, just between the lowermost ribs to the left and beneath the lower tip of the breastbone (the xiphoid) in the upper abdomen. As I learned more, more surprises followed.
Anatomy That Isn't
Consider a couple of "body parts" that do not correspond directly to actual anatomy:
Consider also the body parts that do exist but are not exactly where you may have learned:
The Bottom Line
I blame my sports exploits in grade school and high school for my learning terms and structures in the body I would later have to unlearn. The sources of this misinformation vary for different people: Friends and family, coaches, television and other media sources all contribute to the perpetuation of imprecise terms or misconceptions.
Perhaps it does not matter most of the time. If your favorite football player is "out with a groin pull," it probably matters little to you that he actually has tendonitis of the hip flexors. On the other hand, it may matter a great deal to the athlete or his or her trainer, since the precise problem may dictate a particular treatment. And it may be reassuring to know that your low back pain is unlikely to represent kidney trouble. It pays to check a reliable medical or anatomy book for more information about your favorite body parts. There's plenty to worry about without worrying about parts you don't have or that are not where your symptoms are.
Robert H. Shmerling, M.D. is associate physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. He has been a practicing rheumatologist for over 20 years at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He is an active teacher in the Internal Medicine Residency Program, serving as the Robinson Firm Chief. He is also a teacher in the Rheumatology Fellowship Program.