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Directional terms and body planes

Learning objectives

After completing this study unit you will be able to:

  1. Name the main directional terms and body planes used in anatomy.
  2. Describe the anatomical position.
  3. Describe the location of anatomical structures, with reference to another.

Watch videos

Anatomists use specific terms to clearly communicate the location of structures within the human body. These are directional terms, regional terms and body planes. To avoid confusion and miscommunication, we always use a standard reference point for these terms; this reference point is the anatomical position. The anatomical position is when the body is standing erect, with the face looking forwards, the feet parallel, the arms hanging at the sides, the palms facing forwards and the thumbs pointing away from the body.

Directional terms and body planes allow us to describe the relationship between anatomical structures, for example, the wrist is distal to the elbow, the ears are lateral to the eyes, the nose is located in the midsagittal plane.

Watch the following videos to learn more about these important anatomical terms!

Take a quiz

Now that you have watched the directional terms and body planes videos, solidify your knowledge by taking the following quiz.

To challenge yourself further, customize your own quiz on a broader array of topics.

Learn the main anatomical planes and directional terms with the following PDF worksheets.


Browse atlas


Key points about directional terms and body planes
Body planes Coronal, sagittal, median, transverse
Directional terms Superior (cranial), inferior (caudal), anterior (ventral), posterior (dorsal), medial, lateral, proximal, distal, left, right, superficial, deep, central, peripheral, ulnar, radial, rostral, palmar, plantar

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