The liver is a highly metabolic organ performing more than 500 different functions 24 hours a day. It is also considered the largest digestive gland in the human body. Anatomically, the liver is a very large, dense organ that primarily resides on the right side of the abdomen up under the rib cage but extends all the way over to the left side of the body near the top of the stomach. Considering the size of the liver, it has relationships with almost every other organ in the abdomen, including the lungs via its strong connections to the diaphragm.
The anatomy and position of the liver additionally has a huge impact on blood flow. All the venous blood from the gastrointestinal tract, gallbladder, pancreas, and spleen is routed through the liver via the Portal Vein to be filtered before returning to the heart. Plus the liver sits on top of the inferior vena cava meaning that dysfunction or congestion in the liver can create a backup of blood flow into a huge portion of the body.
As mentioned already, the liver's primarily known function is in the filtering or detoxification of our blood. However, it also is responsible for synthesis and storage of nutrients, balancing hormone levels, heat production, and the synthesis and secretion of bile. It is constantly responding to various signals from the body dictating which roles it carries out. A great example of this is with glucose. The liver, influenced by the hormones insulin and glucagon, will either store glucose as glycogen (stored fuel) or break down glycogen into glucose when the body needs sugar to break down for energy. The liver can also play an important role in the discharging of strong emotions.
Dysfunction of the liver can stem from a large variety of different sources. Oftentimes, individuals present with some level of liver dysfunction or imbalance related to lifestyle and frequent contact with toxins and pollutants in our daily lives. When the liver is overburdened, we start to see a breakdown in its functional capacity and mobility which starts to impact other regions of the body. As discussed earlier, a “sluggish” liver can create increased resistance to the return of peripheral blood flow resulting in symptoms such as bloating, lower extremity swelling, and sciatica.
Additionally, if the liver doesn’t move well, all of its various connections with surrounding structures will be impacted. Its strong connection to the stomach via the lesser omentum can result in symptoms like acid reflux. Its interface with the diaphragm can result in abnormal breathing and rib mechanics, creating a chain reaction that can cause right shoulder and neck pain. Its intimate relationship with the gallbladder can result in an interruption within our crucial biliary system impacting digestion. And the list goes on…
Treating the liver can result in widespread benefits for the body because of its functional and anatomical relationships. We most often will see improvements in energy levels, improved bowel movements, improved circulation, better digestion, and improved breathing mechanics. You can’t say this with every organ but almost everyone benefits from specific work on their liver. If you have questions about your liver or are interested in an assessment of its function and mobility, don’t hesitate to reach out!
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