The Anatomical Position
When discussing anatomy, anatomical terms and the body it is useful to start by defining a standard position in which the human body is presented. This position is referred to as the anatomical position
. A person adopting the “anatomical position” is standing up straight, with their arms at their sides and palms facing forwards with the fingers extended. The feet are facing forward, as are the head and eyes.
Having this standard body position as a reference allows the relative position of body parts be described accurately, with less confusion than using terms such as up or down or higher or lower. The anatomical terms listed below are commonly used in medicine and allied health to describe the relative positions of the parts of the body. You may hear some of these anatomical terms used from time to time when your practitioner is discussing your condition with you.
Simple Anatomical Terms Used In Physiotherapy
Disclaimer: Sydney Physio Clinic provides this information as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific advice or assistance on Common Anatomical Terms Used When Discussing The Body should consult his or her physiotherapist, general practitioner or otherwise appropriately skilled practitioner.
- Lateral – When something is lateral to another part it is more distant to the body midline (further away from the midline of the body). For example in the anatomical position the “thumb” is lateral to the little finger (pinky finger).
- Medial – Refers to something that is closer to the midline. For example your sternum (breast bone) is medial to your scapula (shoulder blade) meaning it is nearest to the midline of the body of these two structures.
- Superior – References something that is above, towards the cephalic (head) end. For example the shoulder is superior to the hip.
- Inferior – If something is inferior then it is below, towards the plantar (foot) end when compared to another part of the body. For example the nose is inferior to the eyes.
- Anterior – If something is Anterior to something else then it is positioned towards the front of the body. For example the sternum is anterior to the spine. This is also sometimes referred to as ventral.
- Posterior – Towards the rear or back of the body. For example the vertebrae of the spine are posterior to your abdominal muscles.
- Superficial – If something is superficial it is closer to the skin, nearer the body surface. For example the skin is superficial to the organs.
- Deep – Conversely if something is deep then it is further from the body surface. More towards the inside of the body. For example your tiba is deep to your calf muscle.
- Distal – Distal refers to something that is situated away from the centre of the body or from the point of attachment. A body part located far from an attachment point. For example the wrist is distal to the elbow.
- Proximal – When something is proximal it is situated nearer to the centre of the body or toward the point of attachment. For example the humerus is proximal to the radius.