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