Layers of the abdominal wall: anatomical investigation of subcutaneous tissue and superficial fascia

Surg Radiol Anat. 2011 Dec;33(10):835-42. doi: 10.1007/s00276-010-0772-8. Epub 2011 Jan 7.


Introduction: In recent times new surgical approaches have been developed, in which subcutaneous tissue is the primary object, such as flaps and fat removal techniques, but different descriptions and abundance of terminology persist in Literature about this tissue.

Aim and methods: In order to investigate the structure of abdominal subcutaneous tissue, macroscopic and microscopic analyses of its layers were performed in 10 fresh cadavers. Results were compared with in vivo CT images of the abdomen of 10 subjects.

Results: The subcutaneous tissue of the abdomen comprises three layers: a superficial adipose layer (SAT), a membranous layer, and a deep adipose layer (DAT). The SAT presented fibrous septa that defined polygonal-oval lobes of fat cells with a mean circularity factor of 0.856 ± 0.113. The membranous layer is a continuous fibrous membrane rich in elastic fibers with a mean thickness of 847.4 ± 295 μm. In the DAT the fibrous septa were predominantly obliquely-horizontally oriented, defining large, flat, polygonal lobes of fat cells (circularity factor: mean 0.473 ± 0.07). The CT scans confirm these findings, showing a variation of the thickness of the SAT, DAT and membranous layer according with the subjects and with the regions.

Discussion: The distinction of SAT and DAT and their anatomic differences are key elements in modern approaches to liposuction. The membranous layer appears to be also a dissection plane which merits further attention. According with the revision of Literature, the Authors propose that the term "superficial fascia" should only be used as a synonym for the membranous layer.

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Wall / anatomy & histology*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Fascia / anatomy & histology*
  • Fascia / diagnostic imaging
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Radiography
  • Subcutaneous Fat, Abdominal / anatomy & histology*
  • Subcutaneous Fat, Abdominal / diagnostic imaging