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Body surface anatomy

Learning objectives

After completing this study unit you will be able to:

  1. Name the main structures visible on the anterior and posterior surfaces of the human body. 
  2. Describe the location, appearance and relationships of palpable anatomical structures.

Watch videos

Surface anatomy teaches us about the main anatomical features visible on the surface of the human body. We use this knowledge to identify inner anatomical structures according to their visible features.

A good understanding of surface anatomy is key to interpreting normal and abnormal anatomy in clinical settings, such as medical imaging procedures and clinical examination. Many aspects of surface anatomy between the sexes are similar but there are a few differences which mainly relate to sexual differentiation during development.

Take a quiz

Now that you’ve watched the videos, test what you have learned with our tailored body surface anatomy quiz!

If you want to test your broader terminology knowledge, give this custom quiz a go.

Browse atlas

Explore the surface anatomy of the human body from an anterior perspective in the gallery below!

Explore the surface anatomy of the human body from a posterior perspective in the gallery below.


Key points about body surface anatomy
Types of surface anatomy landmarks Bony landmarks
Soft tissue landmarks
External organs
Major surface anatomy structures found on the head, neck and trunk Anterior: Larynx, sternocleidomastoid muscle, supraclavicular fossa, clavicle, pectoralis major muscle, jugular notch of sternum, sternum, sternal angle, xiphoid process, breast, areola, nipple, costal margin, rectus abdominis muscle, linea alba, semilunar line, umbilicus, mons pubis, anterior superior iliac spine, inguinal ligament, scrotum, penis, glans penis, vulva

 External occipital protuberance, vertebra C7,
trapezius muscle, spine of scapula, medial border of scapula, inferior angle of scapula, latissimus dorsi muscle, lumbar triangle (of Petit), iliac crest, posterior superior iliac spine, sacral triangle, sacroiliac joint, anal region
Major surface anatomy structures found on the upper limb Anterior: Acromion, deltoid muscle, biceps brachii muscle, cubital fossa,  thenar eminence, hypothenar eminence

Triceps brachii muscle, olecranon, 
radial foveola (anatomical snuffbox)
Major surface anatomy structures found on the lower limb Anterior: Femoral triangle, quadriceps femoris muscle, patella, tibial tuberosity, tibialis anterior muscle, lateral malleolus, medial malleolus

Gluteal region, intergluteal cleft, gluteal sulcus, iliotibial tract, hamstring muscles, popliteal fossa, triceps surae muscle, calcaneal (achilles) tendon

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