What Is Peristalsis?

Get health & wellness advice into your inbox

Your privacy is important to us. Any information you provide to us via this website may be placed by us on servers. If you do not agree to these placements, please do not provide the information.

Best Milk Alternative


Every day, you make a conscious effort to eat food and break it down into bite-sized pieces to make it easier to swallow, but what happens after you swallow the food? Do you ever wonder how the food you swallow gets pushed down your body without conscious effort? This is by a process called peristalsis! 

What is peristalsis?

Peristalsis is the involuntary muscle movement that performs wave-like motions, contracting and relaxing to push contents along your body. 

Mechanism of peristalsis

The biting and chewing of food in the mouth are voluntary responses. In the oesophagus, an involuntary response occurs after swallowing food into the oesophagus:1,2,3

  • Peristalsis is stimulated by swallowing as food enters the oesophagus, a tube surrounded by muscles
  • Food is propelled along the oesophagus by a series of contractions and relaxation of muscles within the tube, in a wave-like motion

Similar to the oesophagus, the stomach and the small and large intestines are surrounded by muscles that push the food along by peristalsis. Keep reading to understand in detail how peristalsis is involved in the digestive and other systems. 

Biology of peristalsis and digestive process

  • The parasympathetic nervous system stimulates peristalsis by a network of nerves (e.g. like messengers in your body) 
  • Our body has a network of nerves that communicate with each other and receive information via signals
  • These nerves are stimulated by the stretching of the digestive system or certain chemicals
  • This allows the muscle to contract and relax when needed, allowing coordinated movement and the digestive process2

Peristalsis and the digestive system 

Peristalsis occurs in different stages of the digestive process:4,5

  • In the oesophagus, food is pushed from the oesophagus to the stomach by peristalsis to prepare for digestion
  • In the stomach, food is blended and mixed with stomach juices (which helps with digestion and absorption), producing a mixture called chyme. Peristalsis contributes to the mixing and enables the progression of chyme to be slowly transported into the small intestine
  • In the small intestine, peristalsis moves chyme slowly along the small intestine into the large intestine while the mixing, digestion and absorption of nutrients from the chyme occurs 
  • In the large intestine, peristalsis moves chyme along the large intestine while it is further broken down and water is absorbed. Then, peristalsis moves the remaining undigested content and waste products, referred to as faeces, from the large intestine to the rectum

Peristalsis has an essential role in the digestive process and contributes from the start (oesophagus) to the end (rectum) of the digestion process!

Peristalsis and the lymphatic system 

One of the many mechanisms lymph uses to circulate throughout the body is “peristalsis within the lymph capillaries.” 

Peristalsis and the reproductive system

Another example of the peristalsis process is in the reproductive system. In the female reproductive tract, peristalsis (uterine peristalsis) has been found to have a role:6,7

  • during the menstrual cycle
  • transporting sperm towards the uterine tube for fertilisation 
  • in embryo implantation 

In the male reproductive system, peristalsis contraction occurs during ejaculation: 

  • enabling the transportation of spermatozoa (sperm) from the epididymis to the urethra8

Peristalsis and the urinary system

Are you wondering how urine goes from your kidneys to your bladder? Yes, via the ureter by peristalsis! This ensures waste products are removed from your body in a timely manner. 

Disorders related to peristalsis

Here are some examples of conditions where peristalsis may be affected by, or peristalsis dysfunction contributes to, the following conditions:2,9,10

Symptoms of impaired peristalsis

The following symptoms of impaired peristalsis can include:2,11

  • Dysphagia (problems with swallowing)
  • Chest pain 
  • Constipation 
  • Diarrhoea 
  • Heartburn 
  • Regurgitation
  • Vomiting 
  • Weight loss 

Dietary influences 

  • Some examples of dietary influences include fibre intake and hydration
  • Fibre intake can stimulate peristalsis in the intestine, improving bowel movement and defaecation habits and relieving constipation12

Drinking plenty of water and keeping hydrated can soften faeces and prevent constipation.13

To know more about keeping a healthy digestive system, refer to this article: ‘How Can I Heal My Digestive System Naturally?’

Lifestyle factors 

  • Some examples of lifestyle factors include physical activity and psychological stress
  • Physical activity stimulates intestinal peristalsis and prevents constipation13,14,15
  • Psychological stress may induce bowel dysfunction and affect bowel habits16


What is peristalsis? 

A type of involuntary muscle movement that pushes content along the body in a wave-like motion. 

What is peristalsis in digestion? 

Peristalsis is a type of muscle movement that occurs within your body to move food content along your body for digestion. 

Does peristalsis weaken with age? 

Yes, there is an association between weakened peristalsis and an increase in age.17


In summary, peristalsis is an involuntary muscle movement that moves content along your body and is a process that occurs in organ systems such asdigestive, reproductive, urinary and lymphatic. The most common example of peristalsis is in the digestive system, which uses peristalsis from the very start of the digestive process to the end - from the oesophagus to the rectum. This article lists some disorders that affect peristalsis or contribute to the process. Moreover, we list some important dietary influences and lifestyle factors that may stimulate peristalsis or result in bowel habit changes.


Get health & wellness advice into your inbox

Your privacy is important to us. Any information you provide to us via this website may be placed by us on servers. If you do not agree to these placements, please do not provide the information.

Best Milk Alternative
[optin-monster-inline slug="yw0fgpzdy6fjeb0bbekx"]
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

Get our health newsletter

Get daily health and wellness advice from our medical team.
Your privacy is important to us. Any information you provide to this website may be placed by us on our servers. If you do not agree do not provide the information.

Nithursha Nagendrabalan

Master of Sciences in Cancer, University College London, England

I possess a solid academic background in biomedical sciences and cancer research. Encountering complex information through my educational journey has emphasised the vital need to render knowledge accessible to all. With my extensive knowledge and recognition of the significance of making science understandable, I am committed to translating complex scientific concepts into accessible articles.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

my.klarity.health presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
Klarity is a citizen-centric health data management platform that enables citizens to securely access, control and share their own health data. Klarity Health Library aims to provide clear and evidence-based health and wellness related informative articles. 
Klarity / Managed Self Ltd
Alum House
5 Alum Chine Road
Westbourne Bournemouth BH4 8DT
VAT Number: 362 5758 74
Company Number: 10696687

Phone Number:

 +44 20 3239 9818