Peristalsis (/ˌpɛrɪˈstælsɪs/ PERR-ih-STAL-siss, US also /-ˈstɔːl-/ -STAWL-)[1] is a radially symmetrical contraction and relaxation of muscles that propagate in a wave down a tube, in an anterograde direction. Peristalsis is progression of coordinated contraction of involuntary circular muscles, which is preceded by a simultaneous contraction of the longitudinal muscle and relaxation of the circular muscle in the lining of the gut.[2]

A time-space diagram of a peristaltic wave after a water swallow. High-pressure values are red, zero pressure is blue-green. The ridge in the upper part of the picture is the high pressure of the upper esophageal sphincter which only opens for a short time to let water pass.

In much of a digestive tract such as the human gastrointestinal tract, smooth muscle tissue contracts in sequence to produce a peristaltic wave, which propels a ball of food (called a bolus before being transformed into chyme in the stomach) along the tract. The peristaltic movement comprises relaxation of circular smooth muscles, then their contraction behind the chewed material to keep it from moving backward, then longitudinal contraction to push it forward.

Earthworms use a similar mechanism to drive their locomotion,[3][self-published source?] and some modern machinery imitate this design.

The word comes from New Latin and is derived from the Greek peristellein, "to wrap around," from peri-, "around" + stellein, "draw in, bring together; set in order".[4]

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