Language of Anatomy


     In order to communicated with one another anatomists rely upon a language and standard points of reference.

Anatomical Position
     The body can assume a variety of positions including standing up, lying down and if lying down, lying down on the stomach or lying down on the back. The relative position of different parts of the body can still be described if a common point of reference is agreed upon. This common point of reference is the anatomical position. In the anatomical position, the body is erect with the feet parallel and the arms hanging at the sides with the palms facing forward.
Regional Terms
     The language of anatomy is derived from Latin and Greek which were the languages of learning of the ancients of Western Civilization. Learning some of these terms will help you refer to specific regions of the body in the language of anatomists.
     Below is a sampling of some of these terms (see Fig. 1.5).
Abdominal  – anterior body trunk inferior to the ribs.
Axillary – armpit
Brachial – upper arm from shoulder to elbow
Antebrachial – lower arm from elbow to wrist
Carpal  – wrist
Digital – fingers or toes
Cephalic – head
Cervical  – neck region
Inguinal – region where thigh meets body trunk
Pelvis – area overlying the front of the pelvis
Pubic – genital region
Thoracic – chest
Gluteal – buttock
Lumbar – area of back between ribs and pelvis (lower back)
Occipital – posterior surface of head
Directional Terms
     Directional terms are used by both anatomists and medical personnel to precisely describe the relative position of various organs and structures. These direction terms are presented are described in Table 1.1 and are presented as opposite pairs below:
Superior – Inferior A structure closer to the head is superior. A structure closer to the foot is inferior.
Anterior – Posterior A structure closer to the front of the body is anterior. A structure closer to the back is posterior.
Ventral – Dorsal Have the same meanings in human anatomy with anterior (ventral) – posterior (dorsal).
Medial – Lateral A structure closer to the midline is medial. A structure further away from the midline is lateral.
Proximal – Distal A structure closer to the point of attachment or origin is proximal. A structure further from the point of attachment is distal.
Superficial – Deep A structure closer to the body or organ surface is superficial. A structure further away from the surface is deep.
Body Planes and Sections
     When looking at internal structures it is necessary to cut through the body along a plane. These “slices” through the body can be actual cuts or imaginary. In three dimensions there are three basic planes of section:
Sagittal section
     A plane along the length of the body that divides it into right and left halves is sagittal. If the plane divides the body into equal right and left halves the plane is midsagittal or median. If the plane divides the body into unequal right and left parts the plane is parasagittal.
Frontal (Coronal) section
     A plane that divides the body into anterior and posterior parts is frontal or coronal.
Transverse section
     A plane that divides the body or organ into superior and inferior parts is transverse.
Ventral Body Cavity
     The ventral body cavity contains all the organs within the thoracic and abdominopelvic cavities. The ventral body cavity is divided as follows:
Thoracic cavity
  The thoracic cavity includes all the space in the ventral body cavity above the diaphragm. The thoracic cavity can be further divided into the two cavities that contain the lungs and all the organs in between that form the mediastinum. The mediastinum contains a cavity that contains the heart called the pericardium.
Abdominopelvic cavity
  The abdominopelvic cavity includes all the space below the diaphragm. The dividing boundary between the abdominal cavity and the pelvic cavity is an imaginary plane whose location is determined by bony landmarks on the pelvis. The abdominal cavity contains the liver, pancreas, stomach, small intestines, colon and some other organs. The pelvic cavity contains the female reproductive organs, urinary bladder and rectum.