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Basic Anatomical Terminology and Planes of Motion

Updated on August 13, 2015
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In order to easily refer to any part of human anatomy or describe any human motion, one must understand the terminology for the three dimensional planes that the human body moves in and some terminology that explains anatomy or motion based on a reference point on the body.

Planes of Motion

The human body moves in three dimension space, and each of those dimensional planes has a name.

  • Motion within the Sagittal Plane is forward or backward and is parallel to an imaginary plane dividing the body's left and right sections
  • Motion within the Frontal Plane is left or right and is parallel to an imaginary plane dividing the body's front and back sections
  • Motion within the Transverse Plane is rotational and is parallel to an imaginary plane dividing the body's upper and lower sections, also the waistline


Anatomical Reference Terms

The following terms are vital to describing anything in relation to a fixed point of human anatomy

Term
Refers to
Term
Refers To
Anterior
Toward the Front
Ventral
Same as Anterior; Toward the Front
Posterior
Toward the Back
Dorsal
Same as Posterior; Toward the Back
Superior
Toward the Head; Upper
Inferior
Away from the Head; Lower
Medial
Toward the midline of body (spine)
Lateral
Away from the Midline of body (spine)
Proximal
Toward the attached end of the limb, origin of the structure, or midline of the body
Distal
Away from the attached end of the limb, origin of the structure, or midline of the body
Superficial
External; close to or on the surface of the body
Deep
Internal; located further beneath the surface of the body than superficial structures
Cervical
The region of the neck
Thoracic
The region between the neck and the abdomen; the region of the chest
Lumbar
Region of back between the abdomen and the pelvis
Plantar
The sole or bottom of the feet
Dorsal
Top surface of feet or hands
Palmar
The palm of the hands

Examples of Terminology in Motion

Extension and Flexion, such as the movement of walking, occurs on the Sagittal Plane
Extension and Flexion, such as the movement of walking, occurs on the Sagittal Plane | Source
Adduction and Abduction, such as the movement of lateral dumbbell raises, or jumping jacks, occurs on the Frontal Plane
Adduction and Abduction, such as the movement of lateral dumbbell raises, or jumping jacks, occurs on the Frontal Plane | Source
Horizontal abduction and horizontal adduction, as well as rotation, such as the movement of swinging a golf club, occur in the Transverse Plane
Horizontal abduction and horizontal adduction, as well as rotation, such as the movement of swinging a golf club, occur in the Transverse Plane | Source

Fundamental Movement Terminology

To better understand the terminology, try doing each movement.

Movements in the Sagittal Plane

  • Flexion: Decreasing the angle between two bones
  • Extension: Increasing the angle between two bones
  • Dorsiflexion: Moving the top of the foot toward the shin at the ankle joint
  • Plantarflexion: Moving the sole of the foot downward; pointing the toes

Movements in the Frontal Plane

  • Abduction: Motion away from the midline of the body
  • Adduction: Motion toward the midline of the body
  • Elevation: Moving to a superior position (i.e. shoulder shrugs)
  • Depression: Moving to an inferior position
  • Inversion: Lifting the medial border of the foot
  • Eversion: Lifting the lateral border of the foot

Movement in the Transverse Plane

  • Rotation: Internal or External turning about the vertical axis of bone
  • Pronation: Rotating the hand and wrist medially from the elbow
  • Supination: Rotating the hand and wrist laterally from the elbow
  • Horizontal flexion/adduction: From a 90-degree abducted arm position, the humerus is flexed/adducted in toward the midline of the body
  • Horizontal extension/abduction: The return of the humerus from horizontal flexion/adduction

Multiplanar Movements

  • Circumduction: Motion that describes a "cone"; combines flexion, extension, abduction, and adduction in sequence
  • Opposition: Thumb movement unique to humans and primates

Using what you know


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About this Hub

As I study for certification as a Personal Trainer with the American Council on Exercise, I'm creating these hubs which follow along with the course material. If you are studying for ACE Certification as well, you can use these hubs for exam review, or just use them as general information to better understand exercise science.

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    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      Wow, this is great information and so educational. I am sure you will see this of interest to many studying the human body and motion. Wish I could understand it more because it is so interesting. Voted up.

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