Directional Terms

When learning anatomy it is important to know directional terms in order to help understand the position of a structure relative to another. Most directional terms can be grouped into pairs that have an opposite meaning Ie. anterior (front) and posterior (back).
It is also a good idea to understand the planes of the body which are imaginary flat surfaces running through the body. Below is a chart explaining directional terms followed by a chart explaining body planes.

Directional Terms

Directional TermDefinitionUsage Example
Superior (Cephalic, Cranial)Toward the head or upper part of the structureYour knee is superior to your ankle.
InferiorAway from the head or the lower part of the structureYour elbow is inferior to your shoulder.
AnteriorNearer to or at the front of the bodyYour sternum is anterior to your heart.
PosteriorNearer to or at the back of the bodyYour esophagus is posterior to the trachea. (windpipe)
MedialNearer to the midlineYour ulna is medial to your radius.
LateralFurther from the midlineYour lungs are lateral to your heart.
IntermediateBetween two structuresYour transverse colon is intermediate between the ascending and descending colons.
IpsilateralOn the same side of the body as another structureYour gallbladder and ascending colon are ipsilateral.
ContralateralOn the opposite side of the body from another structureYour ascending and descending colons are contralateral.
ProximalNearer to the attachment of a limb towards the trunk. Near to the origin of a structure.Your humerus is proximal to your radius.
DistalFurther from the attachment of a limb from the trunk. Farther from the origin of a structure.Your phalanges are distal to your carpals.
Superficial (external)Toward or on the surface of the bodyYour ribs are superficial to your lungs.
Deep (internal)Away from the surface of the bodyYour ribs are deep to the skin of your chest and back.

Body Planes

  • Sagittal Plane – the vertical plane that divides the body or organ into left and right sides. (Not necessarily at the center line of the body)
  • Midsagittal/Median plane – When a plane passes through the midline of the body or organ and divides it into equal left and right sides
  • Frontal/Coronal plane – Divides the body or organ into anterior (front) and posterior (back)
  • Transverse/Horizontal plane – Divides the body into superior (upper) and inferior (lower) portions.
  • Oblique plane – An oblique plane passes through the body or organ at an angle.