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Terminology

Terminology

Subject of Anatomy

Anatomy, derived from the Greek word ‘temnein’ meaning to cut, is the scientific study of bodily structures and their relationship to one another. It is comprised of macroscopic structures that can be seen without the aid of a microscope ‘Gross Anatomy’ (includes surface anatomy, neuroanatomy, endoscopic and imaging anatomy), and microscopic structures that can only be seen with the use of a microscope. The term anatomy usually refers to gross or macroscopic anatomy, while microscopic anatomy is referred to as histology, the scientific study of cells and tissues.

Anatomy forms the basis of medicine as well as other fields that revolve around patient treatment. It helps in understanding the disease better, and subsequently, how to treat it. The ability to correctly interpret a clinical observation is considered the endpoint of sound anatomical knowledge. This requires observation and visualization skills, together with the learning and memorization of the numerous anatomical terminologies involved. The Terminologia Anatomica (TA), published in 1998, is the current international standard on human anatomic terminology.

Anatomy terms

Anatomy terms are ideally derived from both the Ancient Greek and Latin languages, though nowadays, many of these terms are vernacularized. 

Structure of anatomy terms

The terms are composed of roots, prefixes, and suffixes. The roots usually denote an organ, tissue or condition, while the prefixes or suffixes describe the root. Unlike colloquial terminology, anatomic terminology is more precise. It contains a variety of extensive and often highly specialized vocabulary that provides unambiguous description of more than 7000 macroscopic anatomical structures. By using these terms, anatomists hope to eliminate vagueness, reduce errors, and facilitate exchange and communication among healthcare professionals and scientists worldwide, in various fields like medical care, research, and teaching.

Many of these terms present information about a structure’s location, function, shape, size and sometimes even about its resemblance to another structure. Some of the important basic anatomical terms include: anatomical position, anatomical planes, and terms of direction, relationship and comparison.

To avoid any confusion, all anatomical terms are expressed in relation to the standard ‘anatomical position’, a reference position adopted globally to describe the location of structures. The body is in its anatomical position when it’s standing erect and facing forwards with a neutral expression, upper limbs by the side with the palms facing forwards and thumbs facing away from the body, and lower limbs together with the toes pointing forwards.

Anatomical descriptions can also be based on four imaginary planes (median, sagittal, frontal, and transverse). A plane is a flat surface intersecting a body in the anatomical position that can show the internal structures.

Moreover, there are various terms of direction, relationship and comparison that consist of adjectives describing parts of the body or comparing two structures relative to each other in position. These terms, arranged as pairs of opposites, are either specific for comparisons made in the anatomical position, or in reference to the anatomical planes (Anterior – posterior, medial – lateral, superior – inferior, proximal –distal, cranial – caudal, superficial – deep…). Other anatomical terms include anatomical regions, quadrants, muscles, joints, membranes, movement (general and special motion), functional state, and anatomic variations.

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