Medical anatomical terms for body locations & directions

Anatomical terms

When reading medical reports or talking to doctors, it’s helpful to know some useful terms for describing body structure. Here’s a guide!

Medical anatomical terms for body locations & directions

Directional terms

Directional terms describe the positions of structures relative to other structures or locations in the body.

Superior or cranial: Toward the head end of the body; upper (example, the hand is part of the superior extremity).

Inferior or caudal: Away from the head; lower (example, the foot is part of the inferior extremity).

Anterior or ventral: Front (example, the kneecap is located on the anterior side of the leg).

Posterior or dorsal: Back (example, the shoulder blades are located on the posterior side of the body).

Medial: Toward the midline of the body (example, the middle toe is located at the medial side of the foot).



Lateral: Away from the midline of the body (example, the little toe is located at the lateral side of the foot).

Proximal: Toward or nearest the trunk or the point of origin of a part (example, the proximal end of the femur joins with the pelvic bone).

Distal: Away from or farthest from the trunk or the point or origin of a part (example, the hand is located at the distal end of the forearm).

Axial: The part of the body that forms the main trunk of the body (including spinal column and ribs)

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body-planes-human-anatomy-myriaAppendicular: The part of the skeleton is comprised of the bones of the appendages/limbs.

Superficial: Refers to issues or structures near the skin.

Deep: Structures further away from the skin (underneath).

Right and left: The subject’s right or left side, not from the point of view of the observer.

Planes of the body

Coronal Plane (Frontal Plane): A vertical plane running from side to side; divides the body or any of its parts into anterior and posterior portions.

Sagittal Plane (Lateral Plane): A vertical plane running from front to back; divides the body or any of its parts into right and left sides.

Axial Plane (Transverse Plane): A horizontal plane; divides the body or any of its parts into upper and lower parts.

Median plane: Sagittal plane, through the midline of the body; divides the body or any of its parts into right and left halves.



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