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Anatomical Terms

Learning Objectives

  • Identify major segments, bones, and muscles of the human body (listed below)
  • Describe anatomical position and understand its importance in describing human motion
  • Understand the listed spatial/directional terms
  • Describe and understand the three principal anatomical planes and axes, and understand the secondary planes and axes
  • Describe segmental actions that occur about each of the major joints of the body: wrist, elbow, shoulder, neck, hip, knee, and ankle

As an introduction, why is it important to be able to describe human motion non-numerically (using only words)? To effectively do so, you must understand the concepts described on this page.

1. Identify the anatomy of the human musculoskeletal system.

For the purpose of this course, the body segments you should be familiar with include:


The bones you should be familiar with include: Bones
Additionally, the muscles and muscle functions you should know are circled on this muscles link

2. Understand the Following Spatial and Directional Terminology:

Anterior/PosteriorSuperior/Inferior Medial/LateralProximal/Distal

3. Describe and Understand the Following Planes and Corresponding Axes:

Sagittal Plane--Frontal Axis

Frontal Plane--Sagittal AxisTransverse Plane--Longitudinal AxisThere is one cardinal plane (each cardinal plane bisects the entire body, at the whole-body center of mass), and there is an infinite number of secondary planes (these are each parallel to the cardinal plane) that can be used to describe human motion.

4. Understand Anatomical Position

Anatomical position (see illustration above) is the standard reference position for the body when describing locations joint position, or the movements of limbs and/or other anatomical structures. Except for the ankle, when the major joints of the body are in anatomical position, they can be described as neutral, or zero degrees.

5. Describe the Following Segmental Actions:

Sagittal Plane--Frontal Axis
Flexion, extension, hyperextension, dorsiflexion, and plantar flexion

Frontal Plane--Sagittal Axis
Adduction, abduction, radial deviation, ulnar deviation, eversion, inversion, and lateral flexion

Tranverse Plane--Longitudinal Axis
Rotation, horizontal abduction and adduction, and forearm supination and pronation

Other joint actions to know:

Triplanar Motions:
Pronation (subtalar joint): a combination of dorsiflexion, eversion, and abduction
Supination (subtalar joint): a combination of plantarflexion, inversion, and adduction

In-class exercise:
In pairs, use any term that is helpful, from above, to describe how Tim Lincecum must move his segments to get from anatomical position to the position shown below.


Some More Practice:
describe the segmental motions that are depicted in the two photographs below.


Even More Practice:
Here is a pdf with some practice problems. Here are the answers.

Course Syllabi