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Anatomy And Physiology 101: What You Should Know - Directional Terms

Updated on June 6, 2012

Anatomy and Physiology Directional Terms

If you've taken A&P and want to brush up on some of your terminology, look no further. If you're getting into taking and A&P class, this article should give you some insight of what to expect. For those of you who are students and are worried about the class- Yes, it's hard. But if you study hard, learn your terms and structures, you will do fine. Get yourself interested as much as you can in the human body. I've learned more in this class than I have in any other class I've ever taken, and found it to be most enjoyable, but extremely challenging as well. Good luck!

Directional Terms

Here are a list of the terms you will learn, probably in your first chapter in your textbook. I'll list them off first, and then I'll describe them in a little bit.

  • Right and Left (This is simple, but there is a major thing to know about this in the medical field)
  • Superior and Inferior
  • Cephalic and Caudal
  • Anterior and Posterior
  • Ventral and Dorsal
  • Proximal and Distal
  • Lateral and Medial
  • Superficial and Deep

What They Mean

Those are the directional terms. Now I'll explain what they mean.

  • Right and Left are simple terms. However, you must ALWAYS- and I stress this ALWAYS refer to it as the patients right and left. If you are looking at the patient, and he says that his right arm hurts, it's HIS OR HER right arm, not yours. So it will seem like it's his left from your perspective, but it is his right. You'll get the hang of this, but try to refer to everything from this perspective from this point on in your life.
  • Superior means higher, and inferior means lower. That's simple. The head is superior to the neck. The foot is inferior to the leg.
  • Cephalic means something is closer to the head than any other structure. It's basically the same thing as superior. The neck is cephalic to the chest.
  • Caudal means the same thing as inferior. It describes something closer to the tail than any other structure. The hands are caudal to the elbow.
  • Anterior is to the front of the body. The chest is anterior to the spine.
  • Posterior is to the back of the body. The spine is posterior to the sternum.
  • Ventral is the same thing as anterior.
  • Dorsal is the same thing as posterior. Thing of it as the dorsal fin on a dolphin. It's on the dolphins back. That should help you remember.
  • Proximal means that something is closer to the point of attachment to the body than another structure. Think of proximity = close. So the Elbow is proximal to the hand, because the elbow is closer to the shoulder (the attachment to the body) than the hand is.
  • Distal is the opposite. It's further away from the attachment of the body than another structure. The fingers are distal to the wrist.
  • Lateral means it's away from the midline of the body. So your shoulders are lateral to your spine. Your hips are lateral to your pelvis.
  • Medial means towards the midline of the body. Your nose is medial to your eyes. Your chest is medial to your shoulders.
  • Superficial means towards the surface. If you have a superficial wound, it's not very deep in the skin. Here's an example- muscle is superficial to bone, or skin is superficial to muscle.
  • Deep means it's away from the surface. It's self explanatory, it describes something going deeper into the body. Your lungs are deep to your ribs.

How Directional Anatomy is Used in the Medical Profession

Directional anatomy is always used in the medical profession. If you don't learn these, you'll have no idea what is going on. For example, I work in radiology, and I have a radiologist read an x-ray. He will use these terms, such as "Small existing incision at the anterior surface of the abdominal cavity, inferior to the liver, suggestive of recent cholecystectomy (gall bladder removal)." Or if you're a nurse in the emergency room, an ambulance will radio in with a stab victim, stating "Patient has a deep stab wound at the proximal right thigh." These terms are relatively easy to learn.

You should have fun with these terms. Make them a part of your daily vocabulary. Everything should be medical terminology for you now. For example, I had an itch on my back, and the person scratching it for me couldn't get it. So I said "Go lateral, just a bit. Go superior a couple inches." It actually works out better than the barbarian language we used to use. Have fun, enjoy the class, and work hard. Good luck!


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    • profile image

      yvette agatep 

      7 years ago

      tnx for sharing these informations:)


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