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Directional Terms for Anatomical Position and Major Body Regions

Directional terms are used to describe the relationship of one part of the body to another. Various body parts and their relationship with other body parts can be easily understood by the usage of Directional terms in anatomy. Readers have the ease to analyze the anatomical position of the body parts with these directional terms.

It is the fact that the standard anatomical position of the body is to stand straight with front facing palms of the hands & upper limbs at the side.

The image below explains various directional terms of anatomy in the simplest manner.

Directional Terms for Anatomical Position

Directional Terms for Anatomical Position

Most of the directional terms used to describe the relationship of one part of the body to another can be grouped into pairs that have opposite meanings. For example, superior means toward the upper part of the body, and inferior means toward the lower part of the body.

It is important to understand that directional terms have relative meanings, they make sense only when used to describe the position of one structure relative to another. For example, your knee is superior to your ankle, even though both are located in the inferior half of the body.

Study the directional terms below and the example of how each is used. As you read the examples, look at Figure above to see the location of each structure.

Directional Terms in Human Anatomy

TermMeaningExamples of Usage
VentralToward the front* or bellyThe aorta is ventral to the vertebral column.
DorsalToward the back or spineThe vertebral column is dorsal to the aorta.
AnteriorToward the ventral side*The sternum is anterior to the heart.
PosteriorToward the dorsal side*The esophagus is posterior to the trachea.
CephalicToward the head or superior endThe cephalic end of the embryonic neural tube develops into the brain.
RostralToward the forehead or noseThe forebrain is rostral to the brainstem.
CaudalToward the tail or inferior endThe spinal cord is caudal to the brain.
SuperiorAboveThe heart is superior to the diaphragm.
InferiorBelowThe liver is inferior to the diaphragm.
MedialToward the median planeThe heart is medial to the lungs.
LateralAway from the median planeThe eyes are lateral to the nose.
ProximalCloser to the point of attachment or originThe elbow is proximal to the wrist.
DistalFarther from the point of attachment or originThe fingernails are at the distal ends of the fingers.
SuperficialCloser to the body surfaceThe skin is superficial to the muscles.
DeepFarther from the body surfaceThe bones are deep to the muscles.

The human body consists of an axial portion, the head, neck, and trunk, and an appendicular portion, the upper and lower limbs and their girdles. Each of these major portions of the body is divided into regions with special names to facilitate communication and to aid in locating body components.

Major Body Regions

Major Body Regions

Major Regions of the Head, Neck, and Trunk

Head and NeckAnterior TrunkPosterior TrunkLateral Trunk
CervicalInguinalLumbarInferior Trunk

Major Regions of the Limbs

Upper LimbDigitalFemoral
AntecubitalPalmar (pal’-mar)Pedal
BrachialLower LimbPlantar
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