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Three different umbilical ligaments, the median, medial and lateral, can be found in the abdominal anatomy, legacies of the umbilical cord. These structures are vestigial and for the most part do not serve a specific function in the body. In anatomy classes, students learn about their location and may be tested on them during examinations where they are asked to demonstrate their knowledge of internal anatomy. This knowledge can be important for medical practitioners who need to be able to orient themselves in the body and must know the difference between structures that may look very similar.
The median umbilical ligament runs down the lower portion of the front of the abdominal wall. Paired medial umbilical ligaments run along other side, with a matching set of lateral ligaments. These ligaments are all that remain of the umbilical cord. After birth, when a baby no longer needs a supply of nutrients from the mother, this tissue shrivels and leaves only vestigial remains behind.
Parts of the medial umbilical ligaments do contribute to the formation of the superior vesical artery and the interior iliac artery. These arteries comprise part of the blood supply to the pelvis. It can be useful for care providers to be able to locate the various ligaments when they are working in the abdomen and need to be able to orient themselves accurately for a procedure. In minimally invasive medicine where surgeons work with cameras inserted into the body, disorientation can be a potential concern because the area of interest is not exposed for easy view. Landmarks can be useful for surgeons in this setting.
The lateral umbilical ligaments are also pertinent to hernia classification, where the type of a hernia may be determined by its position relative to these structures. For this reason, it is important to be able to distinguish between the different ligaments and accompanying folds, to make sure a hernia is classified correctly. Hernia positioning can be important for treatment decisions, as a care provider may approach the problem differently depending on where it is.
Illustrations of the umbilical ligaments are available, along with photographs from autopsies and dissections to show what the structures look like in human bodies. Every body is slightly different, and it can be helpful to look at reference images. These images can accustom doctors to the different presentations of anatomical structures to reduce the risk of errors when identifying the same structures in a living patient.
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