Peristalsis During Digestion: Moving Food Through the Esophagus

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Dec 14, 2010

Both mechanical and chemical digestion begin in the mouth immediately after we ingest food. The partially digested food travels from the mouth through the esophagus on the way to the stomach. The esophagus, a muscular tube-shaped organ, facilitates this process through involuntary, wavelike contractions called peristalsis. This activity will simulate how peristalsis occurs through the esophagus.

Peristalsis During Digestion


Tennis ball

Nylon knee-high stocking



  1. Use scissors to clip the toe out of the stocking so both ends are open.
  2. Hold up one open end of the stocking and place the tennis ball in the opening of the stocking.
  3. Use your hands to push and squeeze the ball through the stocking to the other end. Be careful not to tear the stocking.

Follow-Up Questions

  1. In the demonstration, what did you have to do to move the tennis ball from one end of the stocking to the other?
  2. Since this was a simulation of what occurs during peristalsis, indicate which part each of the following items represented in the digestive tract, referring to Figure 11.3 as needed.
    1. The top opening of the stocking was the __________.
    2. The entire length of the stocking was the __________.
    3. The tennis ball represented the __________.
    4. Your fingers represented the __________.
    5. The bottom end of the stocking represented the __________.


  1. Answers will vary, but students should mention they had to squeeze and push on the tennis ball.
    1. Mouth
    2. Esophagus
    3. Food particles
    4. Peristalsis due to contractions
    5. Stomach


The muscles of the esophagus are involuntary muscles. Do some research and come up with a list of other involuntary muscles in the human body.

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