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Anatomical terminology

Anatomical terminology is a form of scientific terminology used by anatomists, zoologists, and health professionals such as doctors.

Anatomical terminology uses many unique terms, suffixes, and prefixes deriving from Ancient Greek and Latin. These terms can be confusing to those unfamiliar with them, but can be more precise reducing ambiguity and errors. Also, since these anatomical terms are not used in everyday conversation, their meanings are less likely to change, and less likely to be misinterpreted.

To illustrate how inexact day-to-day language can be: a scar "above the wrist" could be located on the forearm two or three inches away from the hand or at the base of the hand; and could be on the palm-side or back-side of the arm. By using precise anatomical terminology such ambiguity is eliminated.

An international standard for anatomical terminology, Terminologia Anatomica has been created.

Anatomical terminology has quite regular morphology, the same prefixes and suffixes are used to add meanings to different roots. The root of a term often refers to an organ, tissue, or condition. For example, in the disorder hypertension, the prefix "hyper-" means "high" or "over," and the root word "tension" refers to pressure, so the word "hypertension" refers to abnormally high blood pressure. The roots, prefixes and suffixes are often derived from Greek or Latin, and often quite dissimilar from their English-language variants.

Latin names of structures such as musculus biceps brachii can be split up and refer to, musculus for muscle, biceps for "two-headed", brachii as in the brachial region of the arm. The first word tells us what we are speaking about, the second describes it, and the third points to location.

  • and , which describe structures at the front (anterior) and back (posterior) of the body. For example, the toes are anterior to the heel, and the popliteus is posterior to the patella.
  • and , which describe a position above (superior) or below (inferior) another part of the body. For example, the orbits are superior to the oris, and the pelvis is inferior to the abdomen.
  • and , which describe a position that is closer (proximal) or further (distal) from the trunk of the body. For example, the shoulder is proximal to the arm, and the foot is distal to the knee.
  • and , which describe structures that are closer to (superficial) or further from (deep) the surface of the body. For example, the skin is superficial to the bones, and the brain is deep to the skull. Sometimes profound is used synonymously with deep.
  • and , which describe a position that is closer to (medial) or further from (lateral) the midline of the body. For example, the nose is medial to the eyes, and the thumb is lateral to the other fingers.
  • and , which describe structures derived from the front (ventral) and back (dorsal) of the embryo, before limb rotation.
  • and , which describe structures close to the top of the skull (cranial), and towards the bottom of the body (caudal).
  • Occasionally, sinister for left, and dexter for right are used.
  • Paired, referring to a structure that is present on both sides of the body. For example, the hands are paired structures.
  • The sagittal plane is the plane that divides the body or an organ vertically into right and left sides. If this vertical plane runs directly down the middle of the body, it is called the midsagittal or median plane. If it divides the body into unequal right and left sides, it is called a parasagittal plane, or less commonly a longitudinal section.
  • The frontal plane is the plane that divides the body or an organ into an anterior (front) portion and a posterior (rear) portion. The frontal plane is often referred to as a coronal plane, following Latin corona, which means "crown".
  • The transverse plane is the plane that divides the body or organ horizontally into upper and lower portions. Transverse planes produce images referred to as cross sections.
  • and , which refer to a movement that decreases (flexion) or increases (extension) the angle between body parts. For example, when standing up, the knees are extended.
  • and refers to a motion that pulls a structure away from (abduction) or towards (adduction) the midline of the body or limb. For example, a star jump requires the legs to be abducted.
  • Internal rotation (or medial rotation) and External rotation (or lateral rotation) refers to rotation towards (internal) or away from (external) the center of the body. For example, the asana posture in yoga requires the legs to be externally rotated.
  • and refer to movement in a superior (elevation) or inferior (depression) direction. Primarily refers to movements involving the scapula and mandible.
  • and refers to flexion (dorsiflexion) or extension of the foot at the ankle. For example, plantarflexion occurs when pressing the brake pedal of a car.
  • and dorsiflexion refer to movement of the flexion (palmarflexion) or extension (dorsiflexion) of the hand at the wrist. For example, prayer is often conducted with the hands dorsiflexed.
  • and refer to rotation of the forearm or foot so that in the anatomical position the palm or sole is facing anteriorly (supination) or posteriorly (pronation) rotation of the forearm. For example, a person skiing must pronate their arms in order to grasp the skis.
  • and refer to movements that tilt the sole of the foot away from (eversion) or towards (inversion) the midline of the body.
  • and describe structures that relate to an organ (visceral), or the wall of the cavity that the organ is in (parietal). For example, the parietal peritoneum surrounds the abdominal cavity.
  • Calais-Germain, Blandine (1993). Anatomy of Movement. Eastland Press. ISBN . 
  • Drake, Richard; Vogl, Wayne; Mitchell, Adam (2004). Gray’s Anatomy for Students. Churchill Livingstone. ISBN . 
  • Martini, Frederic; Timmons, Michael; McKinnley, Michael (2000). Human Anatomy (3rd ed.). Prentice-Hall. ISBN . 
  • Marieb, Elaine (2000). Essentials of Human Anatomy and Physiology (6th ed.). Addison Wesley Longman. ISBN . 
  • Muscolino, Joseph E. (2005). The Muscular System Manual: The Skeletal Muscles of the Human Body (2nd ed.). C.V. Mosby. ISBN . 
  • Ngai, Steven (2006). Understanding Anatomical Latin (PDF) (3rd ed.). 


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