1.6 Anatomical Terminology - Anatomy and Physiology | OpenStax (2023)

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Demonstrate the anatomical position
  • Describe the human body using directional and regional terms
  • Identify three planes most commonly used in the study of anatomy
  • Distinguish between the posterior (dorsal) and the anterior (ventral) body cavities, identifying their subdivisions and representative organs found in each
  • Describe serous membrane and explain its function

Anatomists and health care providers use terminology that can be bewildering to the uninitiated. However, the purpose of this language is not to confuse, but rather to increase precision and reduce medical errors. For example, is a scar “above the wrist” located on the forearm two or three inches away from the hand? Or is it at the base of the hand? Is it on the palm-side or back-side? By using precise anatomical terminology, we eliminate ambiguity. Anatomical terms derive from ancient Greek and Latin words. Because these languages are no longer used in everyday conversation, the meaning of their words does not change.

Anatomical terms are made up of roots, prefixes, and suffixes. The root of a term often refers to an organ, tissue, or condition, whereas the prefix or suffix often describes the root. 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.

(Video) 1.6 Anatomical Terminology

Anatomical Position

To further increase precision, anatomists standardize the way in which they view the body. Just as maps are normally oriented with north at the top, the standard body “map,” or anatomical position, is that of the body standing upright, with the feet at shoulder width and parallel, toes forward. The upper limbs are held out to each side, and the palms of the hands face forward as illustrated in Figure 1.12. Using this standard position reduces confusion. It does not matter how the body being described is oriented, the terms are used as if it is in anatomical position. For example, a scar in the “anterior (front) carpal (wrist) region” would be present on the palm side of the wrist. The term “anterior” would be used even if the hand were palm down on a table.

1.6 Anatomical Terminology - Anatomy and Physiology | OpenStax (1)

Figure 1.12 Regions of the Human Body The human body is shown in anatomical position in an (a) anterior view and a (b) posterior view. The regions of the body are labeled in boldface.

A body that is lying down is described as either prone or supine. Prone describes a face-down orientation, and supine describes a face up orientation. These terms are sometimes used in describing the position of the body during specific physical examinations or surgical procedures.

Regional Terms

The human body’s numerous regions have specific terms to help increase precision (see Figure 1.12). Notice that the term “brachium” or “arm” is reserved for the “upper arm” and “antebrachium” or “forearm” is used rather than “lower arm.” Similarly, “femur” or “thigh” is correct, and “leg” or “crus” is reserved for the portion of the lower limb between the knee and the ankle. You will be able to describe the body’s regions using the terms from the figure.

Directional Terms

Certain directional anatomical terms appear throughout this and any other anatomy textbook (Figure 1.13). These terms are essential for describing the relative locations of different body structures. For instance, an anatomist might describe one band of tissue as “inferior to” another or a physician might describe a tumor as “superficial to” a deeper body structure. Commit these terms to memory to avoid confusion when you are studying or describing the locations of particular body parts.

(Video) Anatomy 1-6 Regional terms

  • Anterior (or ventral) Describes the front or direction toward the front of the body. The toes are anterior to the foot.
  • Posterior (or dorsal) Describes the back or direction toward the back of the body. The popliteus is posterior to the patella.
  • Superior (or cranial) describes a position above or higher than another part of the body proper. The orbits are superior to the oris.
  • Inferior (or caudal) describes a position below or lower than another part of the body proper; near or toward the tail (in humans, the coccyx, or lowest part of the spinal column). The pelvis is inferior to the abdomen.
  • Lateral describes the side or direction toward the side of the body. The thumb (pollex) is lateral to the digits.
  • Medial describes the middle or direction toward the middle of the body. The hallux is the medial toe.
  • Proximal describes a position in a limb that is nearer to the point of attachment or the trunk of the body. The brachium is proximal to the antebrachium.
  • Distal describes a position in a limb that is farther from the point of attachment or the trunk of the body. The crus is distal to the femur.
  • Superficial describes a position closer to the surface of the body. The skin is superficial to the bones.
  • Deep describes a position farther from the surface of the body. The brain is deep to the skull.

Body Planes

A section is a two-dimensional surface of a three-dimensional structure that has been cut. Modern medical imaging devices enable clinicians to obtain “virtual sections” of living bodies. We call these scans. Body sections and scans can be correctly interpreted, however, only if the viewer understands the plane along which the section was made. A plane is an imaginary two-dimensional surface that passes through the body. There are three planes commonly referred to in anatomy and medicine, as illustrated in Figure 1.14.

  • 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. (“Corona” is Latin for “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.
1.6 Anatomical Terminology - Anatomy and Physiology | OpenStax (3)

Figure 1.14 Planes of the Body The three planes most commonly used in anatomical and medical imaging are the sagittal, frontal (or coronal), and transverse plane.

Body Cavities and Serous Membranes

The body maintains its internal organization by means of membranes, sheaths, and other structures that separate compartments. The dorsal (posterior) cavity and the ventral (anterior) cavity are the largest body compartments (Figure 1.15). These cavities contain and protect delicate internal organs, and the ventral cavity allows for significant changes in the size and shape of the organs as they perform their functions. The lungs, heart, stomach, and intestines, for example, can expand and contract without distorting other tissues or disrupting the activity of nearby organs.

(Video) Anatomy and Physiology For LPN / LVN / RPN - Chapter 1-6: Anatomical Positions & Directions

1.6 Anatomical Terminology - Anatomy and Physiology | OpenStax (4)

Figure 1.15 Dorsal and Ventral Body Cavities The ventral cavity includes the thoracic and abdominopelvic cavities and their subdivisions. The dorsal cavity includes the cranial and spinal cavities.

Subdivisions of the Posterior (Dorsal) and Anterior (Ventral) Cavities

The posterior (dorsal) and anterior (ventral) cavities are each subdivided into smaller cavities. In the posterior (dorsal) cavity, the cranial cavity houses the brain, and the spinal cavity (or vertebral cavity) encloses the spinal cord. Just as the brain and spinal cord make up a continuous, uninterrupted structure, the cranial and spinal cavities that house them are also continuous. The brain and spinal cord are protected by the bones of the skull and vertebral column and by cerebrospinal fluid, a colorless fluid produced by the brain, which cushions the brain and spinal cord within the posterior (dorsal) cavity.

The anterior (ventral) cavity has two main subdivisions: the thoracic cavity and the abdominopelvic cavity (see Figure 1.15). The thoracic cavity is the more superior subdivision of the anterior cavity, and it is enclosed by the rib cage. The thoracic cavity contains the lungs and the heart, which is located in the mediastinum. The diaphragm forms the floor of the thoracic cavity and separates it from the more inferior abdominopelvic cavity. The abdominopelvic cavity is the largest cavity in the body. Although no membrane physically divides the abdominopelvic cavity, it can be useful to distinguish between the abdominal cavity, the division that houses the digestive organs, and the pelvic cavity, the division that houses the organs of reproduction.

Abdominal Regions and Quadrants

To promote clear communication, for instance about the location of a patient’s abdominal pain or a suspicious mass, health care providers typically divide up the cavity into either nine regions or four quadrants (Figure 1.16).

1.6 Anatomical Terminology - Anatomy and Physiology | OpenStax (5)

Figure 1.16 Regions and Quadrants of the Peritoneal Cavity There are (a) nine abdominal regions and (b) four abdominal quadrants in the peritoneal cavity.

(Video) Anatomical Terminology

The more detailed regional approach subdivides the cavity with one horizontal line immediately inferior to the ribs and one immediately superior to the pelvis, and two vertical lines drawn as if dropped from the midpoint of each clavicle (collarbone). There are nine resulting regions. The simpler quadrants approach, which is more commonly used in medicine, subdivides the cavity with one horizontal and one vertical line that intersect at the patient’s umbilicus (navel).

Membranes of the Anterior (Ventral) Body Cavity

A serous membrane (also referred to a serosa) is one of the thin membranes that cover the walls and organs in the thoracic and abdominopelvic cavities. The parietal layers of the membranes line the walls of the body cavity (pariet- refers to a cavity wall). The visceral layer of the membrane covers the organs (the viscera). Between the parietal and visceral layers is a very thin, fluid-filled serous space, or cavity (Figure 1.17).

There are three serous cavities and their associated membranes. The pleura is the serous membrane that encloses the pleural cavity; the pleural cavity surrounds the lungs. The pericardium is the serous membrane that encloses the pericardial cavity; the pericardial cavity surrounds the heart. The peritoneum is the serous membrane that encloses the peritoneal cavity; the peritoneal cavity surrounds several organs in the abdominopelvic cavity. The serous membranes form fluid-filled sacs, or cavities, that are meant to cushion and reduce friction on internal organs when they move, such as when the lungs inflate or the heart beats. Both the parietal and visceral serosa secrete the thin, slippery serous fluid located within the serous cavities. The pleural cavity reduces friction between the lungs and the body wall. Likewise, the pericardial cavity reduces friction between the heart and the wall of the pericardium. The peritoneal cavity reduces friction between the abdominal and pelvic organs and the body wall. Therefore, serous membranes provide additional protection to the viscera they enclose by reducing friction that could lead to inflammation of the organs.

(Video) Chapter 1.6 Body Cavities and Membranes BIO201


What are the terms of anatomy and physiology? ›

Anatomy refers to the internal and external structures of the body and their physical relationships, whereas physiology refers to the study of the functions of those structures. This chapter defines anatomy and physiology and explains why they are important to biomedical engineering.

What are 8 anatomical terms? ›

To compare the location of body parts relative to each other, anatomy uses some universal directional terms: anterior, posterior, ventral, dorsal, distal, proximal, medial, lateral, median, superior, inferior, external, internal, frontal, occipital, rostral, caudal, superficial, deep, central, peripheral, ipsilateral, ...

What are the 10 directional terms in anatomy? ›

Anatomical Directional Terms: Medial, lateral, superior, inferior, anterior, posterior, proximal, distal, superficial, deep, unilateral, bilateral, ipsilateral, and contralateral.

What are the 7 anatomical parts? ›

The human body is divided into regions. The main ones in the human body are the head, neck, thorax, abdomen, pelvis, together with the upper and lower extremities.

Why is anatomical terminology important? ›

Anatomical terms are used to describe specific areas and movements of the body as well as the relation of body parts to each other. It is essential for health professionals to have knowledge of anatomical terms in order to effectively communicate with colleagues in a scientific manner.

What are the 5 body regions? ›

The five regions of the body are the head, neck, torso, upper extremities, and lower extremities. The body is also divided by three imaginary planes known as the sagittal plane, coronal plane, and transverse plane. The sagittal plane runs vertically and divides the body into right and left portions.

What are the 4 main anatomical positions? ›

Anatomically, there are four main positions: supine, prone, right lateral recumbent, and left lateral recumbent. It is important to note that each position has its medical implications.

Is sagittal a plane? ›

Body Planes and Sections: Frontal, Sagittal, Oblique, Transverse

How do you remember anatomical terms? ›

  1. Link the word to the structure by creating a mental picture.
  2. Find the meaning of the word.
  3. Break the word down and make it recognisable for yourself by using tip number 2...
  4. Create your own abbreviations, songs, poems, acronyms etc.
  5. Use flashcards, either in print commercial, online or homemade.

What are the 78 organ in the human body? ›

Among these 78 organs, five organs are considered vital for survival. These include the heart, brain, kidneys, liver and lungs.
Major Organs of the Body.
BIOLOGY Related Links
What Are NeurotransmittersDNA Fingerprinting
Spinal Cord AnatomyHydrological Cycle Diagram
3 more rows

What is basic anatomy? ›

Anatomy and physiology is the study of the body's systems and structures and how they interact. Anatomy focuses on the physical arrangement of parts in the body, while physiology studies the inner functioning of cells, tissues, and organs.

How many parts of anatomy are there? ›

According to anatomy studies [50], human body parts can be divided into nine different parts by position: the head, neck, chest, abdomen, pelvis, back, hip, extremity, and trunk.

What type of anatomical terminology is used now? ›

The current international standard for human anatomical terminology is based on the Terminologia Anatomica (TA). It was developed by the Federative Committee on Anatomical Terminology (FCAT) and the International Federation of Associations of Anatomists (IFAA) and was released in 1998.

What is anatomical structure? ›

An anatomical structure is any biological entity that occupies space and is distinguished from its surroundings. Anatomical structures can be macroscopic such as a carpel, or microscopic such as an acrosome.

What is anatomy of the body? ›

Anatomy is the science that studies the structure of the body. On this page, you'll find links to descriptions and pictures of the human body's parts and organ systems from head to toe.

How many types of body systems are there? ›

The nine major organ systems in the human body are the integumentary system, the musculoskeletal system, the respiratory system, the circulatory system, the digestive system, the excretory system, the nervous system, the endocrine system, and the reproductive system.

How many bones are in the human body? ›

There are typically around 270 bones in human infants, which fuse to become 206 to 213 bones in the human adult. The reason for the variability in the number of bones is because some humans may have a varying number of ribs, vertebrae, and digits.

How many quadrants are in the body? ›

One division method, uses one median sagittal plane and one transverse plane that passes through the umbilicus at right angles. This method divides the abdomen into four quadrants.

What is left side of body called? ›

Lateral: Toward the left or right side of the body, as opposed to medial. Medial: In the middle or inside, as opposed to lateral. Posterior: The back or behind, as opposed to the anterior.

What are medical terminology words? ›

Medical terminology is language used to describe anatomical structures, processes, conditions, medical procedures, and treatments.

How are anatomical directional terms used? ›

Anatomical Position and Directional Terms [Anatomy MADE EASY]

What is anatomy and physiology Wikipedia? ›

Anatomy and physiology, which study the structure and function of organisms and their parts respectively, make a natural pair of related disciplines, and are often studied together. Human anatomy is one of the essential basic sciences that are applied in medicine.

What physiology means? ›

Physiology is the science of life. It is the branch of biology that aims to understand the mechanisms of living things, from the basis of cell function at the ionic and molecular level to the integrated behaviour of the whole body and the influence of the external environment.

What do you study in anatomy? ›

anatomy, a field in the biological sciences concerned with the identification and description of the body structures of living things. Gross anatomy involves the study of major body structures by dissection and observation and in its narrowest sense is concerned only with the human body.

What two languages form the basis for the language of anatomy and physiology? ›

The basis for medical terminology, however, has remained the same. The majority of medical terms are based in the Latin or Greek language.

What are the 3 types of anatomy? ›

Key Points. Gross anatomy is subdivided into surface anatomy (the external body), regional anatomy (specific regions of the body), and systemic anatomy (specific organ systems).

What is basic anatomy? ›

Anatomy and physiology is the study of the body's systems and structures and how they interact. Anatomy focuses on the physical arrangement of parts in the body, while physiology studies the inner functioning of cells, tissues, and organs.

Who is father of physiology? ›

Claude Bernard--"the father of physiology"

What are the four types of physiology? ›

According to the classes of organisms, the field can be divided into medical physiology, animal physiology, plant physiology, cell physiology, and comparative physiology.

What is another name for physiology? ›

In this page you can discover 19 synonyms, antonyms, idiomatic expressions, and related words for physiology, like: biology, biochemistry, anatomy, pharmacology, study of living organisms, science, biomechanic, biomechanics, neuroscience, immunology and neurophysiology.

What is human anatomy? ›

Anatomy is the science that studies the structure of the body. On this page, you'll find links to descriptions and pictures of the human body's parts and organ systems from head to toe.

Who discovered anatomy? ›

The actual science of anatomy is founded during the Renaissance with the work of anatomist and surgeon, Andreas Vesalius. Vesalius describes what he observes during the public dissection of human corpses.

How many body parts do we have? ›

Altogether there are seventy-eight main organs within the human body. These organs work in coordination to give rise to several organ systems. Among these 78 organs, five organs are considered vital for survival. These include the heart, brain, kidneys, liver and lungs.

What is anatomical structure? ›

An anatomical structure is any biological entity that occupies space and is distinguished from its surroundings. Anatomical structures can be macroscopic such as a carpel, or microscopic such as an acrosome.

What are the terms used in anatomy? ›

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).

What is the Latin word of anatomy? ›

Etymology. From French anatomie, from Latin anatomia, from Ancient Greek *ἀνατομία (*anatomía), from ἀνατομή (anatomḗ, “dissection”), from ἀνά (aná, “up”) + τέμνω (témnō, “I cut, incise”) (surface analysis ana- +‎ -tomy), literally “cut up”.

What is the origin of medical terminology? ›

The history of medical terms goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks, specifically Hippocrates. According to the National Institutes of Health, the oldest recorded medical writings are the Hippocratic records from the 4th and 5th centuries BC.


1. Chapter 1.5 Anatomical Terms BIO201
2. A&P I Lab | Exercise 1: Anatomical Position, Directional Terms, & Body Planes
(Catalyst University)
3. TEAS 6 vs 7 Lesson 1 Anatomical directions and terminology
(Professor Yu)
4. BIOL 20 Chapter 1.6-1.7 -- Introduction to Anatomy
(Karen Marks)
5. 1.5-1.6 The Human Body An Orientation
(Z's Biology)
6. Anatomical regions
(Nicole Mashburn)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Kerri Lueilwitz

Last Updated: 02/17/2023

Views: 6288

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (67 voted)

Reviews: 90% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Kerri Lueilwitz

Birthday: 1992-10-31

Address: Suite 878 3699 Chantelle Roads, Colebury, NC 68599

Phone: +6111989609516

Job: Chief Farming Manager

Hobby: Mycology, Stone skipping, Dowsing, Whittling, Taxidermy, Sand art, Roller skating

Introduction: My name is Kerri Lueilwitz, I am a courageous, gentle, quaint, thankful, outstanding, brave, vast person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.