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Anatomical terms

Last updated: April 10, 2021

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Anatomical terms are used to describe specific areas and movements of the body as well as the relation of body parts to each other. It is essential for health professionals to have knowledge of anatomical terms in order to effectively communicate with colleagues in a scientific manner.

A standard anatomical position describes the relation of body parts to one another as a person is standing with the body erect, the arms at the side, and the face and palms directed forward.

Standard position terms

Right/left

  • Refer to the right and left of the patient.
  • Sometimes dexter and sinister are used instead of right and left, respectively (e.g., oculus dexter, oculus sinister).
Anterior
  • Front of the body
Posterior
  • Back of the body
Ventral
  • Front of the embryo before limb rotation
  • In humans, corresponds to anterior
Dorsal
  • Back of the embryo before limb rotation
  • In humans, corresponds to posterior
Superior (position)
  • Above the reference point
Inferior (position)
  • Below the reference point.
Cranial
Caudal
Proximal
  • Towards the reference point or body trunk
Distal
  • Away from the reference point or body trunk
Superficial
  • Towards the surface of the body
Deep
  • Away from the surface of the body
Medial
  • Towards the midline
Lateral
  • Away from the midline
Prone
  • Horizontal positioning in which the anterior surface faces downwards
Supine
  • Horizontal positioning in which the anterior surface faces upwards
Cranial anatomical terms
Rostral (oral)
  • Towards the tip of the nose/mouth from a more posterior point
Occipital (aboral)
Nasal
  • Towards the skull midline
Temporal

Anatomical axes

Main axes Definition
Longitudinal axis
Sagittal axis
Frontal axis
  • Runs horizontally from left to right

Anatomical planes

Main planes Description
Transverse plane (axial, horizontal)
  • Cross-section that divides the body/structure horizontally into cranial and caudal sections
Frontal plane (coronal)
  • Runs parallel to the forehead
  • Divides the body/structure vertically into anterior and posterior parts
Sagittal plane (median, longitudinal, anteroposterior)
  • Runs parallel to the sagittal suture
  • Divides the body/structure vertically into right and left parts
  • Midsagittal plane (median plane): when the sagittal plane runs through the midline of the body axis
General terms
Extension (motion)
  • Movement increasing the angle between two body parts
Flexion
  • Movement decreasing the angle between two body parts
Abduction
  • Movement away from the midline
Adduction
  • Movement towards the midline
External rotation
  • Rotation away from the midline
Internal rotation
  • Rotation towards the midline
Elevation (motion)
  • Movement in a superior direction
Depression (motion)
  • Movement in an inferior direction
Anteversion
Retroversion
Circumduction
  • Circular motion of a limb
Extremity-specific
Dorsiflexion
  • Hand: movement of the hand/fingers toward the dorsal side.
  • Foot: movement of the toes/foot towards the shin
Palmar flexion (volar flexion)
  • Movement of the hand/fingers toward the front of the forearm/hand (palm)
Pronation
  • Hand/forearm: with the arms extended at the sides, rotation so that the palms are facing posteriorly
  • Foot: eversion + dorsiflexion
Supination
  • Hand/forearm: with the arms extended at the sides, rotation so that the palms are facing anteriorly
  • Foot: inversion + plantar flexion
Opposition (motion)
  • Movement and rotation of the thumb's tip towards that of any other finger
Reposition
  • Movement and rotation of the thumb's tip away from that of any other finger

Superior rotation

Inferior rotation
Protraction
Retraction
Eversion
  • Movement of the sole of the foot outward (away from the midline)
Inversion
  • Movement of the sole of the foot inward (toward the midline)
Plantar flexion
  • Movement of the foot/toes downward toward the sole
Spine-specific
Inclination (ventral flexion)
  • Bending the head/torso forward
Reclination (dorsal extension)
  • Bending the head/torso backward
Lateral flexion
  • Bending the head/torso sideward
Rotation
Pelvis-specific
Nutation
Counternutation
Mandible-specific
Lateral excursion
  • Movement of the mandible away from the midline
Medial excursion
  • Movement of the mandible away towards the midline

SUPination is required to hold a bowl of SOUP in your palms!

References:[1]

  1. Types of Body Movements. https://opentextbc.ca/anatomyandphysiology/chapter/9-5-types-of-body-movements/. . Accessed: November 18, 2018.