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Anatomical planes

Three major groups of planes pass through the body in the anatomical position.

Coronal planes are oriented vertically and divide the body into anterior and posterior parts

Sagittal planes also are oriented vertically, but are at right angles to the coronal planes and divide the body into right and left parts. The plane that passes through the center of the body dividing it into equal right and left halves is termed the median sagittal plane 

Transverse, horizontal , or axial planes divide the body into superior and inferior parts.

Location Terms

Three major pairs of terms are used to describe the location of structures relative to the body as a whole or to other structures.

Anterior (or ventral ) and posterior (or dorsal ) describe the position of structures relative to the “front” and “back” of the body. For example, the nose is an anterior (ventral) structure, whereas the vertebral column is a posterior (dorsal) structure.

Superior and inferior describe structures in reference to the vertical axis of the body. For example, the head is superior to the shoulders.




More Location Terms

Medial and lateral describe the position of structures relative to the median sagittal plane and the sides of the body. For example, the thumb is lateral to the little finger.

Proximal and distal are used with reference to being closer to or farther from a structure’s origin, particularly in the limbs. For example, the hand is distal to the elbow joint. These terms are also used to describe the relative positions of branches along the course of linear structures, such as airways, vessels, and nerves. For example, distal branches occur farther away toward the ends, whereas proximal branches occur closer to and toward the origin.

Cranial (toward the head) and caudal (toward the tail) are sometimes used instead of superior and inferior, respectively

Rostral is used, particularly in the head, to describe the position of a structure with reference to the nose. For example, the forebrain is rostral to the hindbrain.

Relative Anatomical Planes


The Anatomical Position

The reference image to the left is in the standard reference position of the body where we describe locations of structures.

The anatomical position includes:

  • Standing upright
  • Feet together, toes pointed
  • Hands by the side
  • Palms facing forward
  • Fingers straight
  • Pad of the thumbs 90° to fingers
  • Face looking forward
  • Mouth is closed
  • Facial expression is neutral