Home Previous TOC Next Bookshelf


Hernial protrusions are very liable to occur at the inguino-femoral region; and this fact has led the surgeon to study the anatomical relations of this part with more than ordinary care and patience. So minutely has he dissected every structure proper to this locality, and so closely has he investigated every possible condition of it as being the seat of hernial, that the only novelty which now remains to be sought for is that of a simplification of the facts, already known to be far too much obscured by an unwieldy nomenclature, and a useless detail of trifling evidence. And it would seem that nothing can more directly tend to this simplification, than that of viewing the inguinal and femoral regions, not separately, but as a relationary whole. For as both regions are blended together by structures which are common to both, so do the herniae which are described as being proper to either region, occur in such close connexion as at times to render it very difficult to distinguish between them.

The human species is, of all others, most subject to hernial in the groin. The erect attitude of the human form, and the fact that many of its more powerful muscular efforts are performed in this posture, cause its more frequent liability to the accidents called abdominal herniae or ruptures.

The viscera of the abdomen occupy this cavity completely, and indeed they naturally, at all times, subject the abdominal parietes to a state of constant pressure, as may be proved by their escape from the abdomen in cases of large wounds of this region. In the erect posture of the body this pressure is increased, for the viscera now gravitate and force downwards and forwards against the abdominal parietes. In addition to this gravitating force, another power impels the viscera from above downwards--namely, that of the muscles of the trunk, and the principal agent amongst these is the diaphragm. The lungs, again, expanding above the diaphragm, add also to the gravitation of the abdominal contents, and these, under the pressure thus accumulated, occasionally make an exit for themselves at the groins, which are the weakest and most depending parts of the abdomen.

Herniae are variously named in accordance with the following circumstances--viz., the precise locality at which they occur--the size and form of the tumour--the time of life at which they happen. Sexual peculiarities do not serve to distinguish herniae, though it is true that the inguinal form, at the part D F, occurs more commonly in the male, whilst the crural form, at the opening E, happens more frequently in the female.

The most common forms of herniae happen at those localities where the abdominal walls are traversed by the bloodvessels on their way to the outstanding organs, and where, in consequence, the walls of the abdomen have become weakened. It also happens, that at these very situations the visceral pressure is greatest whilst the body stands erect. These localities are, A, the umbilicus, a point characterized as having given passage (in the foetal state) to the umbilical vessels; D, the place where the spermatic vessels and duct pass from the abdomen to the testicle; and immediately beneath this, the crural arch, which gives exit to the crural vessels. Herniae may happen at other localities, such as at the thyroid aperture, which transmits the thyroid vessels; and at the greater sacrosciatic notch, through which the gluteal vessels pass; and all regions of the abdominal walls may give exit to intestinal protrusion in consequence of malformations, disease, or injury. But as the more frequent varieties of herniae are those which traverse the localities, A, D, E, and as these, fortunately, are the most manageable under the care of the surgical anatomist, we proceed to examine the structures concerned in their occurrence.

A direct opening from within outwards does not exist in the walls of the abdomen; and anatomy demonstrates to us the fact, that where the spermatic cord, D F, and the femoral vessels, pass from the abdomen to the external parts, they carry with them a covering of the several layers of structures, both muscular and membranous, which they encounter in their passage. The inguinal and crural forms of herniae which follow the passages made by the spermatic cord, and the crural vessels, must necessarily carry with them the like investments, and these are what constitute the coverings of the herniae themselves.

The groin in its undissected state is marked by certain elevations and depressions which indicate the general relations of the subcutaneous parts. The abdomen is separated from the thigh by an undulating grooved line, extending from C*, the point of the iliac bone, to B, the symphysis pubis This line or fold of the groin coincides exactly with the situation of that fibrous band of the external oblique muscle named Poupart's ligament. From below the middle of this abdomino-femoral groove, C B, another curved line, D, b, springs, and courses obliquely, inwards and downwards, between the upper part of the thigh and the pubis, to terminate in the scrotum. The external border of this line indicates the course of the spermatic cord, D F, which can be readily felt beneath the skin. In all subjects, however gross or emaciated they may happen to be, these two lines are readily distinguishable, and as they bear relations to the several kinds of rupture taking place in these parts, the surgeon should consider them with keen regard. A comparison of the two sides of the figure, PLATE 27, will show that the spermatic cord, D F, and Poupart's ligament, C B, determine the shape of the inguino-femoral region. When the integument with the subcutaneous adipose tissue is removed from the inguino-femoral region, we expose that common investing membrane called the superficial fascia. This fascia, a a a, stretches over the lower part of the abdomen and the upper part of the thigh. It becomes intimately attached to Poupart's ligament along the ilio-pubic line, C B; it invests the spermatic cord, as shown at b, and descends into the scrotum, so as to encase this part. Where this superficial fascia overlies the saphenous opening, E, of the fascia lata, it assumes a "cribriform" character, owing to its being pierced by numerous lymphatic vessels and some veins. As this superficial fascia invests all parts of the inguino-femoral region, as it forms an envelope for the spermatic cord, D F, and sheathes over the saphenous opening, E, it must follow of course that wherever the hernial protrusion takes place in this region, whether at D, or F, or E, or adjacent parts, this membrane forms the external subcutaneous covering of the bowel.

There is another circumstance respecting the form and attachments of the superficial fascia, which, in a pathological point of view, is worthy of notice--viz., that owing to the fact of its enveloping the scrotum, penis, spermatic cord, and abdominal parietes, whilst it becomes firmly attached to Poupart's ligament along the abdomino-femoral fold, B C, it isolates these parts, in some degree, from the thigh; and when urine happens to be from any cause extravasated through this abdominal-scrotal bag of the superficial fascia, the thighs do not in general participate in the inflammation superinduced upon such accident.

The spermatic cord, D, emerges from the abdomen and becomes definable through the fibres of the sheathing tendon of the external oblique muscle, H, at a point midway between the extremities of the ilio-pubic line or fold. In some cases, this place, whereat the cord first manifests itself in the groin, lies nearer the pubic symphysis; but however much it may vary in this particular, we may safely regard the femoro-pubic fold, D, b, as containing the cord, and also that the place where this fold meets the iliopubic line, C B, at the point D, marks the exit of the cord from the abdomen.

The spermatic cord does not actually pierce the sheathing tendon of the external oblique muscle at the point D, and there does not, in fact, exist naturally such an opening as the "external abdominal ring," for the cord carries with it a production of the tendon of the external oblique muscle, and this has been named by surgical anatomists the "intercolumnar fascia," [Footnote] the "spermatic fascia." The fibres of this spermatic fascia are seen at D F, crossing the cord obliquely, and encasing it. This covering of the cord lies beneath the spermatic envelope formed by, a b, the superficial fascia; and when a hernial protrusion descends through the cord, both these investing membranes form the two outermost envelopes for the intestine in its new and abnormal situation.

[Footnote: On referring to the works of Sir Astley Cooper, Hesselbach, Scarpa, and, others, I find attempts made to establish a distinction between what is called the "intercolumnar fascia" and the "spermatic fascia," and just as if these were structures separable from each other or from the aponeurotic sheath of the external oblique muscle. I find, in like manner, in these and other works, a tediously-laboured account of the superficial fascia, as being divisible into two layers of membrane, and that this has given rise to considerable difference of opinion as to whether or not we should regard the deeper layer as being a production of the fascia lata, ascending from the thigh to the abdomen, or rather of the membrane of the abdomen descending to the thigh, &c. These and such like considerations I omit to discuss here; for, with all proper deference to the high authority of the authors cited, I dare to maintain, that, in a practical point of view, they arc absolutely of no moment, and in a purely scientific view, they are, so far as regards the substance of the truth which they would reveal, wholly beneath the notice of the rational mind. The practitioner who would arm his judgment with the knowledge of a broad fact or principle, should not allow his serious attention to be diverted by a pursuit after any such useless and trifling details, for not only are they unallied to the stern requirements of surgical skill, but they serve to degrade it from the rank and roll of the sciences. Whilst operating for the reduction of inguinal hernia by the "taxis" or the bistoury, who is there that feels anxiety concerning the origin or the distinctiveness of the "spermatic fascia?" Or, knowing it to be present, who concerns himself about the better propriety of naming it "tunica vaginalis communis," "tunique fibreuse du cordon spermatique," "fascia cremasterica," or "tunica aponeurotica?"]

The close relations which the cord, D F, bears to the saphenous opening, E, of the fascia lata, should be closely considered, forasmuch as when an oblique inguinal hernia descends from D to F, it approaches the situation of the saphenous opening, E, which is the seat of the femoral or crural hernia, and both varieties of hernia may hence be confounded. But with a moderate degree of judgment, based upon the habit of referring the anatomy to the surface, such error may always be avoided. This important subject shall be more fully treated of further on.

The superficial bloodvessels of the inguino-femoral region are, e e, the saphenous vein, which, ascending from the inner side of the leg and thigh, pierces the saphenous opening, E, to unite with the femoral vein. The saphenous vein, previously to entering the saphenous opening, receives the epigastric vein, i, the external circumflex ilii vein, h, and another venous branch, d, coming from the fore part of the thigh. In the living body the course of the distended saphenous vein may be traced beneath the skin, and easily avoided in surgical operations upon the parts contained in this region. Small branches of the femoral artery pierce the fascia lata, and accompany these superficial veins. Both these orders of vessels are generally divided in the operation required for the reduction of either the inguinal or the femoral strangulated hernia; but they are, for the most part, unimportant in size. Some branches of nerves, such as, k, the external cutaneous, which is given off from the lumbar nerves, and, f, the middle cutaneous, which is derived from the crural nerve, pierce the fascia lata, and appear upon the external side and middle of the thigh.

Numerous lymphatic glands occupy the inguino-femoral region; these can be felt, lying subcutaneous, even in the undissected state of the parts. These glands form two principal groups, one of which, c, lies along the middle of the inguinal fold, C B; the other, G g, lies scattered in the neighbourhood of the saphenous opening. The former group receive the lymphatic vessels of the generative organs; and the glands of which it is composed are those which suppurate in, syphilitic or other affections of these parts.

The general relations which the larger vessels of the inguino-femoral region bear to each other and to the superficies, may be referred to in PLATE 27, with practical advantage. The umbilicus, A, indicates pretty generally the level at which the aorta bifurcates on the forepart of the lumbar vertebrae. In the erect, and even in the recumbent posture, the aorta may (especially in emaciated subjects) be felt pulsating under the pressure of the hand; for the vertebrae bear forward the vessel to a level nearly equal with, C C, the anterior superior spinous processes of the iliac bones. If a gunshot were to pass through the abdomen, transversely, from these points, and through B, it would penetrate the aorta at its bifurcation. The line A B coincides with the linea alba. The oblique lines, A D, A D,* indicate the course of the iliac vessels. The point D marks the situation where the spermatic vessels enter the abdomen; and also where the epigastric artery is given off from the external iliac. The most convenient line of incision that can be made for reaching the situation of either of the iliac arteries, is that which ranges from C, the iliac spine, to D, the point where the spermatic cord enters the abdomen. The direct line drawn between D and G marks the course of the femoral artery, and this ranges along the outer border, E, of the saphenous opening.


A. The umbilicus.

B. The upper margin of the pubic symphysis.

C. The anterior superior spine of the left iliac bone. C*, the situation of the corresponding part on the right side.

D. The point where, in this subject, the cord manifested itself beneath the fibres of the external oblique muscle. D*, a corresponding part on the opposite side.

E. The saphenous opening in the fascia lata, receiving e, the saphenous vein.

F. The lax and pendulous cord, which in this case, overlies the upper part of the saphenous opening.

G. Lymphatic glands lying on the fascia lata in the neighbourhood of the saphenous opening.

H. The fleshy part of the external oblique muscle.

a a a. The superficial fascia of the abdomen.

b. The same fascia forming an envelope for the spermatic cord and scrotum.

c. Inguinal glands lying near Poupart's ligament.

d. A common venous trunk, formed by branches from the thigh and abdomen, and joining--

e e. The saphenous vein.

f. The middle cutaneous nerve, derived from the anterior crural nerve.

g. Femoral lymphatic glands.

h. Superficial external iliac vein.

i. Superficial epigastric vein.

k. External cutaneous branches of nerves from the lumbar plexus.