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Directional Terms and Body Planes



Anatomical directional terms and body planes represent a universally accepted language of anatomy, allowing precise communication between anatomists and health professionals. The terms used to explain anatomical positioning are described in relation to one standard position called the anatomical position. This position is used to describe body parts and positions of patients regardless if they are lying down, on their side or facing down. In the anatomical position, the person is standing upright with arms to the side with the palms facing forward and thumbs pointing away from the body, feet slightly apart and parallel to each other with the toes pointing forward and the head facing forward and the eyes looking straight ahead.

Recommended video: Directional terms and body planes
Locating structures in your body is one of the main components of anatomy. Learn all terms used to describe location in the Human body.

Directional Terms

Directional terms allow description of one body part in relation to another.

Anterior and Posterior

Anterior indicates that the body part in question is “in front of” or “front”. Posterior indicates that it is “in behind of” or “behind”.

Anterior - ventral view

Ventral and Dorsal

Ventral denotes towards the front of the body and dorsal means towards the back of the body.

Dorsal - ventral view

Right and Left

Right indicates to the “right side of” and left indicates to the “left side of”.

Right - ventral view

Distal and Proximal

Distal indicates that it is away or farthest away from the trunk of the body or the point of origin of the body part. Proximal means that it is closest or towards the trunk of the body or point of origin.

Proximal - ventral view


Median or midline is an imaginary line down the middle of the body that splits the body into equal left and right parts.

Median - ventral view

Medial and Lateral

Medial is towards the median whereas lateral is away from the median and towards the side of the body.

Lateral - ventral view

Superior and Inferior

Superior is upwards or towards the vertex/top of the head whereas inferior indicates the opposite: below or towards the feet.

Superior - ventral view

External and Internal

Sometimes known as superficial, external denotes towards the surface. Internal is also known as deep and denotes that it is away from the body surface.

External - ventral view

Frontal and Occipital

Frontal refers towards the front of the brain whereas occipital means towards the back of the brain.

Frontal - ventral view

Body Planes

Body planes are imaginary planes or flat surfaces that cut through and section the body in its anatomical position.


The coronal plane is a vertical plane that divides the body into anterior (front) and posterior (back) parts.

Coronal - ventral view


The sagittal plane is also a vertical plane that splits the body into left and right parts. A sagittal plane that runs directly through the midline is also called the midsagittal plane or median plane.

Sagittal - lateral-right view


The transverse plane is a horizontal plane. It divides the body into superior (upper) and inferior (lower) portions. In anatomy, they are also referred to as a cross section.

Transverse - lateral-right view


  • Directional Terms
    • Anterior & Posterior
    • Ventral & Dorsal
    • Right & Left
    • Distal & Proximal
    • Median
    • Medial & Lateral
    • Superior & Inferior
    • External & Internal
    • Frontal & Occipital
  • Body Planes
    • Coronal
    • Sagittal
    • Transverse
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Show references


  • E.N. Marieb, K. Hoehm: Human Anatomy and Physiology, 8th Edition, Pearson Education Inc. (2010), p 12 - 15.
  • K.L. Moore, A.F. Dalley, A.M.R. Agur: Clinically orientated anatomy, 6th Edition, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (2010), p. 5 - 6.
  • K.T. Patton, G.A. Thibodeau: Anatomy and Physiology, 8th Edition, Elsevier (2013), p. 15.

Author, Review and Layout:

  • Natalie Joe
  • Catarina Chaves


  • Anterior - ventral view - Irina Münstermann
  • Dorsal - ventral view - Irina Münstermann
  • Right - ventral view - Irina Münstermann
  • Proximal - ventral view - Irina Münstermann
  • Median - ventral view - Irina Münstermann
  • Lateral - ventral view - Irina Münstermann
  • Superior - ventral view - Irina Münstermann
  • External - ventral view - Paul Kim
  • Frontal - ventral view - Yousun Koh
  • Coronal - ventral view -  Irina Münstermann
  • Sagittal - lateral-right view - Irina Münstermann
  • Transverse - lateral-right view - Irina Münstermann
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