Anatomical Terminology

Before getting into the depth of anatomy, getting familiar with basic anatomical terminologies is must. Besides that, it also helps to know the exact position of structures, also if one doctor wants to communicate with another doctor regarding any diagnosis that usually requires multi-specialist Knowing the exact sites of structures is necessary. Therefore, it is must to have a common standard terminology.

In this text we will see the anatomical terms in following context:

     ● Positional Terminology/Terms

     ● Planes of Body

     ● Directional Terms

     ● Terms Related to Body Movements 

Positional Terms

These terms help to overcome any kind of confusion with reference to position in which body is kept. We shall look all the position with their description here.

1. Standard Anatomical Position

anatomical position

Fig. 1.1

All the locations of different structures are studied with reference to anatomical position.

In standard anatomical position (Fig.1.1), body stands erect, eyes looking forward, arms at side with palms facing forward and feet put together.

→Read definition and branches of anatomy also.

2. Supine Position

supine position

Fig. 1.2

Body lying on its back, face upwards, arms by side, palms facing forward and feet together. (see fig.1.2)

3. Prone Position

prone position

Fig. 1.3

Person lying on his stomach or face. That position is known as prone position. It can be helpful in treatments of patients suffering from acute respiratory distress syndrome. (ARDS)

4. Fowler's Position

Fowlers position

Fig. 1.4

In this position, head of patient’s bed is raised up to some height (generally 45 to 60 degrees, as seen in figure 1.4). In general, this position is used during neurosurgery.

5. Lithotomy Position

Lithotomy position

Fig. 1.5

Patient lying on back with legs separate and upwards, thighs flexed on abdomen and feet supported in straps. As a result, this position is preferred during parturition.

Planes of Body

Plane is an imaginary two dimensional surface that passes through body dividing it into parts which is helpful understanding the location of specific structures. Mainly there are three planes studied widely in anatomy; sagittal, coronal and transverse plane. Besides these three, we included an extra plane that is oblique plane.

planes of body

Fig. 2.1

1. Sagittal Plane (Lateral Plane)

This plane divides the body into vertically left and right sides. If this plane divides body into vertically equal left and equal right by passing through center then it is known as mid-sagittal or median plane. As shown in figure 3.1.

2. Coronal Plane (Frontal Plane)

It is a vertical plane perpendicular to sagittal plane, which divides body into anterior (front) and posterior (back) portions. (See figure 2.1)

3. Transverse Plane (Horizontal plane)

This is a horizontal plane perpendicular to both sagittal and coronal plane. This plane is parallel to ground and divides body into upper (superior) and lower (inferior) parts.

4. Oblique Plane

This divides body at some angle. Any plane other than coronal, transverse, sagittal or mid-sagittal is oblique plane.

Directional Terms

These are helpful in describing relative position of structures or organs with respect to other organ or structure. (Fig. 3.1 & 3.2)

Directional terms anatomy

Fig. 3.1

Directional terms anatomical terminologies

Fig 3.2

1. Superior (Cranial/Cephalic) – Towards the head or upper part of structure. Ex: Lungs are superior to liver. As shown above in 3.1 figure labelling.
2. Inferior (Caudal) – Away from head or towards the feet or lower part of structure. Ex: Foot is inferior to knee.

3. Anterior (Ventral)- Towards the front of body. Ex: Sternum is anterior to heart.
4.Posterior (Dorsal) – Towards the back of body. Ex: Heart is posterior to sternum.

5. Proximal – Close to point of origin or nearer to attachment of limb to the trunk. Ex: Knee joint is proximal to ankle joint.
6. Distal – Farther from point of attachment or trunk of body. Ex: Hand is located at distal end of forearm.

7. Medial – Towards the median plane or towards the middle of the body. Ex: Ulna is on medial side of forearm.
8. Lateral – Away from median plane or farther from midline of body. Ex: Radius is on lateral side of forearm.

9. Ipsilateral – Same side of one structure with respect to another. Ex: Right arm is ipsilateral to left leg.
10. Contralateral – Opposite side of body from other structure. Ex: Ascending and descending colon of large intestine are contra lateral.

11. Superficial – Towards the surface of body or close to skin. Ex: Skin is superficial to bones.
12. Deep – Away from surface of body or away from skin. Ex: Ribs are deep to skin of chest.

Terms Related to Body Movements

  Flexion and Extension

flexion extension

Fig 4.1

Flexion and extension

Fig 4.2

Fig 4.3

These are Angular movements which take place in sagittal plane. In these movements, angle either increase or decrease between articulating body parts.

In Flexion (Bending) there is decrease in angle between surface of articulating bone.

In Extension (Straightening) there is increase in angle between surface of articulating bones.

Abduction and Adduction

Abduction and adduction

     Fig 4.4 

These are also angular movements used in reference to midline of body and occur along coronal plane. Abduction (taking away) is a movement of bone away from midline of body or part. Adduction (bringing near) is a movement of bone towards the midline of body or part.

● Circumduction

Next type of angular movement is circumduction which is movement of distal end of a body part in a circle. It is the sequential combination of extension, abduction, flexion and adduction. It is the sequential combination of extension, abduction, flexion and adduction. It can be best seen while bowling.

Medial and Lateral Rotation

Medial Rotation is also known as internal or inward rotation as in this rotation bone of limb is turned towards midline or anterior surface of bone is turned towards midline of body.

Lateral Rotation is also known as external or outward rotation as it is the rotation of limb’s bone away from midline. 

● Protraction and Retraction

These are the movements of scapula and mandible.

Protraction – In scapula, protraction is anterolateral movement of scapula or movement of shoulder in forward direction.

– In mandible, protraction is movement of mandible forward parallel to plane of ground.

Retraction – In scapula, retraction is pulling of scapula posteriorly and medially or movement of shoulder in backward direction.

– In mandible, retraction is movement of mandible backward parallel to plane of ground.

Elevation and Depression

Elevation is the movement of body in upward direction whereas, depression is the movement of body in downward direction.

● Inversion and Eversion

Fig 4.5

These are the movements of ankle joints. Eversion is the movement of sole outwards, or it is the movement of sole away from median plane. Inversion is the movement of sole inwards so that the sole faces in a medial direction. 

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● Dorsiflexion and Plantar flexion

Fig 4.6

Dorsiflexion is the movement of foot that brings dorsum (back) of foot in the direction of tibia, such that the sole faces forward.

Plantar flexion brings foot away from tibia, such that sole faces backwards.

● Opposition and Re-position

Opposition of thumb brings the tip of thumb and tip of little finger together.

Reposition is a movement that brings thumb to its anatomical position next to index finger.

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