Cellular Physiology: Sodium Potassium Pump

For this sodium-potassium pump lesson, we’ll learn the essence and responsibility, and the overall mechanism of the enzyme.

The sodium-potassium pump can be quite a perplexing topic especially to nursing students due to its nature, function, and how the entire process contributes to healthier well-being.

Sodium-Potassium Pump Explained

At this very moment, there is a diversified network of nerve impulses running throughout the human anatomy. However, none of these complex movements are possible without the help of the sodium-potassium pump because it is specifically designed to transport proteins that are found within the cell membranes. Cell membranes are semi-permeable external barriers of majority of cells inside the body.


The primary function of the sodium-potassium pump is to propel potassium ions inside the cell, and at the same time, extracting sodium ions from the cell. Due to this intricacy, the sodium-potassium pump is hailed as one of the most critical processes inside the body for without it, electrical signals will not be possible, and the cells will eventually deteriorate.

The sodium-potassium pump is notable in nerve cells, in the kidneys, and also plays an important role in heart contractions and blood pressure. One must thank the sodium-potassium pump for a steady heartbeat.

The Cell Boat Story

So, how does the sodium-potassium pump operate? It’s quite simple. The sodium has to be taken from the cell, and potassium will take its place.

To facilitate effective recall of the sodium-potassium pump, we have created a short story about a sailboat, in this case, cell boat that wishes to catch fish and drain the boat of saltwater.

In the cell boat, the goal is to keep the saltwater, which is representative of sodium, from going inside the boat. If saltwater goes inside the cell boat, the natural thing to do is to get rid of that saltwater, pumping it out. We are avoiding abundance of sodium inside the cell.

On the other hand, if you’re going on a fishing trip, your primary goal is to catch as many fish as you can. The fish is representative of the potassium. Potassium being pulled in is essential for the cell boat because it is an electrolyte that is utilized for electric conduction and maintains fluid and electrolyte balance, above all things.

It’s that easy.

So, as a summary, the sailboat (cell boat) represents the cell, while the saltwater is the sodium and the fishes are potassium. You want seawater to be pumped out of the cell and potassium to be pulled into the cell to be used for contraction and conductivity.

The Simple Nursing Way

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