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Learning Objective

Identify anatomical terms of position and direction.

The planes of the body are imaginary lines dividing it into sections. These planes are used as reference points in locating anatomical structures. As shown in (Fig. 1) the sagittal plane divides the body into right and left halves on its vertical axis. This plane passes through the sagittal suture of the cranium; any plane parallel to it is called a sagittal plane. Frontal planes are drawn perpendicular to the sagittal lines and divide the body into anterior (front) and posterior (rear) sections.

This line passes through the coronal suture of the cranium; frontal planes are also called coronal planes. The horizontal, or transverse, plane, which is drawn at right angles to both sagittal and frontal planes, divides the body into superior (upper) and inferior (lower) sections.

Figure 1.—Directions and Planes of the Body Image.

Reprinted from: Thibedeau, G. A., & Patton, K. T. (2006). Anatomy & Physiology (6th ed.). St. Louis: Elsevier Health Sciences.

To aid in understanding the location of anatomical structures, a standard body position called the anatomical position is used as the point of reference. This anatomical position is assumed when the body stands erect with the arms hanging at the sides and the palms of the hands turned forward (Fig. 2).

Figure 2.—Anatomical Position

Other commonly used anatomical terms include the following:

Anterior or Ventral: Toward the front, or along the belly side of the body

Posterior or Dorsal: Toward the back, or along the vertebral side of the body

Medial: Near or toward the mid-sagittal plane of the body

Lateral: Away from the mid-sagittal plane of the body

Internal: Inside

External: Outside

Proximal: Nearest to the point of origin or towards the trunk

Distal: Away from the point of origin or away from the trunk

Superior: Toward the top of the body or above

Caudal: Toward the lower end of the body

Inferior: Toward the bottom of the body or below

Supine: Lying position of the body, face up

Prone: Lying position of the body, face down

Lateral recumbent: Lying position of the body, on either side

Peripheral: The outward part or surface of a structure

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David L. Heiserman, Editor

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Revised: June 06, 2015