When talking around bones and teeth, us will should use numerous terms come orient ourselves. Several of the terms are obvious, choose right and left. Various other intuitive terms can fail us, however. Because that example, we can use higher and reduced to to express to parts of our arms, yet these terms will certainly be confound if us lift our arms end our heads. Also left and also right can reason confusion: sometimes we need to talk about the left surface ar of our appropriate arm, because that instance. Because that reasons prefer these, anthropologists usage terms with specific anatomical interpretations to talk around the positions of bones and features ~ above them.

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Humans space special contrasted to numerous vertebrates in having actually a vertebral axis the runs roughly up and down, at least while we are standing up. For this reason, a long heritage in human being anatomy uses these terms:

Superior: Higher. The sleep is superior to the mouth.

Inferior: Lower. The nostrils are most visible top top the inferior facet of the nose.

These state are constantly used once referring to directions on the head. Because that the postcranial skeleton, us may likewise use cranial and also caudal, which orient along the axis of the spine. For pets that don’t carry their spine in an upright or upright position, cranial and caudal will constantly denote the same directions.

The vertebral axis is only one direction, and also our bodies have two extr directions: front to back, and also side come side. The terms because that the front to back direction are:

Anterior: toward the front. The nose is ~ above the anterior side of the head.

Posterior: towards the rear. The posterior side of the head is typically covered in hair.

Dorsal: In humans, toward the earlier of the torso. The shoulder chisels are dorsal come the ribs.

Ventral: In humans, toward the front of the torso. The navel is ~ above the ventral element of the body.

In humans, dorsal and ventral are mostly synonymous through posterior and also anterior, and the last terms are often used. In animals with habitual postures that are various than ours, dorsal and also ventral maintain an anatomical definition that is unchanged and also thus prevent confusion.

Left and also right are absolute terms instead of loved one terms. This terms different one half of the human body from the other. The best arm will always be the right arm, and also the ideal lung is right even though it is not as much right as the best arm.

To refer to the position of a function relative come another, the adhering to terms are used:

Medial: Closer to the midline, or splitting line in between right and also left halves, that the body. The neck is medial to the shoulder.

Lateral: Farther indigenous the midline. The eye is lateral come the nose.

The limbs are special cases, since they deserve to move a an excellent deal loved one to the spine. Because that the limbs, anterior, posterior, medial, and also lateral room all loved one terms used in recommendation to a particular limb position, referred to as the anatomical position. For humans, the arms are in anatomical position as soon as hanging in ~ the sides of the body, palms forward, and also the legs room in anatomical position in a common standing posture, feet side by side. This method that the pinky next of the wrist is medial, and also the thumb side is lateral. Superior and inferior space not supplied for the limbs at all. These terms are replaced by:

Proximal: Closer to the allude of attachment v the torso. In other words, closer come the shoulder or the hip. The elbow is proximal to the wrist.

Distal: Farther indigenous the allude of attachment. The fish eye is distal to the knee.


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These terms can be somewhat confusing come learn, but they stop a an excellent deal of man in referring to bones and their features. The most typical onesin this course will be anterior, posterior, superior, inferior, medial, lateral, proximal, and also distal. Teeth and the hands and feet each have actually a few special directional terms, which will be introduced in addition to these anatomical areas.

Updated: January 21, 2013

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