Human anatomy uses its own collection of terms. Many of these are taken from Latin and Greek languages and each has a very specific meaning. It is really important to understand the basic terms, which would be used again and again throughout the course of learning anatomy. Therefor, it is highly recommended that you try to learn the following terms.

Anatomical terms for describing positions:

Anatomical position: In this position, the body is straight in standing position with eyes also looking straight. The palms are hanging by the sides close to the body and are facing forwards. The feet also point forwards and the legs are fully extended. Anatomical position is very important because the relations of all structures are described as presumed to be in anatomical position.

Anatomical Position

Anatomical Position

Supine position: In this position, the body is lying down with the face pointing upwards. All the remaining positions are similar to an anatomical position with the only difference of being in a horizontal plane rather than a vertical plane.

Person Lying in Supine Position

Person Lying in Supine Position (Source: Apers0n/Wikipedia)

Prone position: This is the position in which the back of the body is directed upwards. The body lies in a horizontal plane with face directed downwards.

Prone Position

Prone Position

Lithotomy position: In this position the body is lying in a supine with hips and knees fully extended. The feet are strapped in position to support the flexed knees and hips.

Lithotomy Position

Lithotomy Position

Anatomical terms for describing planes:



Median or Mid-Sagittal plane: This is the plane which divides the body into equal right and left halves.

Sagittal plane: It is any plane parallel to the median plane. This plane divides the body into unequal right and left halves.

Frontal plane: It is a vertical plane at right angle to the median plane. If you draw a line from one ear to another from above the head and then divide the whole body along this line, the plane formed will be frontal plane. It is also known as a coronal plane.

Transverse plane: It is the horizontal plane of the body. It is perpendicular to both frontal and median plane.

Oblique plane: Any plane other than the above-described planes will be an oblique plane.

Anatomical terms for describing relations:

Terms of Relation

Terms of Relation

Anterior means towards the front.

Posterior means towards the back.

Superior means towards the head.

Inferior means towards the feet.

Medial means towards the median plane (near the middle of the body).

Lateral means away from the median plane (away from the middle of the body).

Anatomical terms for limbs:

Proximal means near the trunk

Distal means away from the trunk

Preaxial border means the outer border in the upper limb and inner border in the lower limb.

Postaxial border means outer border in upper limb and inner border in lower limb

Flexor surface means an anterior surface of the upper limb and posterior surface of the lower limb

Extensor surface means the posterior surface of upper limb and anterior surface of the lower limb.

Anatomical terms for describing muscles:

Origin: The relatively fixed end of muscle during natural movements of the muscle

Insertion: The relatively mobile end of the muscle during natural movements of the muscle

Belly: The fat fleshy part of the muscle which is contractile in function

Tendon: The fibrous and non-contractile part of the muscle which attaches muscle to the bone.

Aponeurosis: It is a flattened tendon arising from the connective tissues around the muscle.

Anatomical terms for describing movements:

Movements of limbs

Movements of limbs

Flexion: A movement by which the angle of a joint is decreased

Extension: A movement by which the angle of a joint is increased

Adduction: Movement toward the central axis

Abduction: Movement away from the central axis

Medial rotation: Rotation toward the medial side of the body

Lateral rotation: Rotation towards the lateral side of the body

Pronation: This movement occurs in the forearm whereby the palm is turned backward

Supination: This movement also occurs in the forearm whereby the palm is turned forwards