German Contact Help Login Register

Medial vs Lateral

Meaning and difference between the two directional terms medial and lateral.

Show transcript

Well, hello again! It's Matt from Kenhub, and in this short tutorial, we will be discussing the terms lateral versus medial.

It's important to note that these terms are not actual anatomical locations. They are conventions used by people to distinguish location on the body. It's part of the code used by anatomists that helps keep us all on the same page, so to speak. It's important to know that these anatomical terms always refer to a location on the body when it is in anatomical position.

The concept of anatomical position refers to when you stand body looking straight ahead, feet apart and pointing forward. Your arms are hanging down at both sides with palms facing forward. We don't see often people in the streets standing in this position as it would just look awkward, but believe me, this is a great way to learn all the terms of location and even serves as an easy way to locate structures in your body.

In giving directions anatomically, we will use the term medial to refer to something closer to the midline. So, think of medial as moving towards the middle of the body. Medial is easy to remember mnemonically because it sounds like median, middle, midline, mid, medium, muffin, mumbo – oh, wait! I'm getting carried away with the M words. Moving on…

When we talk about an anatomical part being lateral, it means on the side, or away from the middle of the body. As long as it is to the side of the midline of the body, something can be lateral. For example, the eyes are lateral to the nose but the ears are lateral to the eyes. An example of lateral movement would be a tennis player receiving a serve. The legs move side to side while awaiting the burst of movement that follows the direction of the ball.

We also use this term to determine from what viewpoint we are looking at the body or part. Here are some examples that will help you cement the idea:

This is the lateral view of the skull, as we look at the structures of the skull found towards the side. And this is the medial view of the skull, where we see the different structures of the skull that are located closer to the midline. We're able to get this view thanks to this mid-sagittal cut that we have created on the skull.

Medial and lateral are easy concepts to master. You can really get familiar with them if you use them every day. For example, you might say to your friend, "Hey, you have food on your shirt. There's this huge spot lateral to the buttons on your shirt"!

Now that you just completed this video tutorial, then it’s time for you to continue your learning experience by testing and also applying your knowledge. There are three ways you can do so here at Kenhub. The first one is by clicking on our “start training” button, the second one is by browsing through our related articles library, and the third one is by checking out our atlas.

Now, good luck everyone, and I will see you next time.

Continue your learning

Articles for further reading
Well done!
Create your free account.
Start learning anatomy in less than 60 seconds.