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The Peripheral Nervous System

Last week we took a look at the central nervous system. This week we are going to look at the peripheral nervous system.

The peripheral nervous system refers to all the nerves and ganglia outside the brain and spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system connects the central nervous system to the rest of the body. It has nerves that connect with the central nervous system to send and receive messages from the brain.

The main functions of the peripheral nervous system include walking, facial expressions, and chewing food. Unlike the central nervous system, the peripheral nervous system is not enclosed by bone, making it more susceptible to damage.

The somatic nervous and autonomic nervous systems are part of the peripheral nervous system. The somatic nervous system is involved with the voluntary control of body movement via the skeletal muscles, such as walking.

The autonomic nervous system is a little bit more complicated. It controls involuntary actions of muscles, glands, and internal organs. It does so without direct involvement from the cerebral cortex, hence being termed involuntary. The autonomic nervous system has parts associated with the central nervous system as well as the peripheral. To simplify things, the autonomic nervous system can be divided into subsections - the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

The sympathetic nervous system is for our ‘fight or flight’ response. It enables the appropriate response to a threat or trauma, such as breathing faster, increasing the heart rate and blood pressure, and the dilation of the pupils.

The parasympathetic nervous system is termed the ‘rest and digest’ system. It is involved in slowing the heart rate, and increasing intestinal and gland activity. The exact opposite of the sympathetic nervous system is involved in conserving energy and regulating bodily functions.

One final member of the autonomic nervous system family is the enteric nervous system. It is in charge of functioning the digestive tract. It can act independently but it is influenced by the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

As you can see the peripheral nervous system is a bit more complicated than the central nervous system. All these sub-sections are essential for the body to run like a well-oiled machine. Tune in next week where we will be delving into the cranial nerves!

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