Anatomical Directions

In This Blog:
- Anterior & Posterior
- Lateral & Medial
- Superior & Inferior
- Proximal & Distal

Do you know your Posterior from your Proximal?! This blog is going to cover the vocabulary used when describing anatomical directions of your body.

It’s not enough to just say “front” or “inside” because even though they’re familiar words to us, they’re actually quite relative and confusing: your front might change, depending which way you’re facing, and the inside or your arm changes depending on which way you rotate it!

What medical professionals needed was a gold standard, that no matter how a patient was lying, sitting, or slouching, everyone would know which way a muscle faced, which direction they wanted someone to move, and even which end of a limb was which!

All these terms are defined using the Anatomical Position, so when reading through the definitions this is how you should imagine them on the body, but we’ll include pictures along the way too.


Anterior & Posterior

This is probably the most common pair you’ll hear in a regular training setting, you may have an ‘Anterior Pelvic Tilt’ or been told to work on your ‘Posterior Chain’, so chances are you’re already familiar with these terms and what they refer to.

Anterior: Front
Posterior: Back

How to Remember
I can’t be the only one who’s heard your bum being called your Posterior before?! If you can remember that your bum is on your Posterior side, then your Anterior is the front – the opposite side to your bum!

Some examples: 

Anterior Pelvic Tilt.
Your Pelvis is tilted forwards

The Rectus Abdominus are anterior to the Transverse Abdominus.
The Rectus Abdominus are in front of the Transverse Abdominus.

Posterior Chain
 A chain of muscles on the back of your body, e.g. Glutes & Lats.

Your hamstrings are posterior thigh muscles.
Your hamstrings are on the back of your thigh.



Lateral & Medial

To get your head around these two, you must imagine a line down the centre of your body. Anything close to this centre (or “midline”) is Medial, anything further away is Lateral.

Medial: Towards the midline
Lateral: Away from the midline
Directions_LateralMedial.jpg 148.86 KB

How to Remember

You can think of the similarity between the words Medial and Midline: Medial is close to your Midline. Then it follows that Lateral must be away from it!

Some examples:

Lateral Chain
 Muscles on the outside edge of your body, away from your midline, e.g. obliques & IT Band.

Lateral Raises
Lifting a weight away in your hand up & away from your midline.

Your eyes are medial to your ears
Your eyes are more towards your midline than your ears.

Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL)
Ligament on the inside of your knee.

The knee is actually a great example which includes Anterior, Posterior, Lateral & Medial directions:
Directions_Knee-Ligaments.jpg 100.9 KB

You’ve probably heard all about ACL injuries, but now you know where the Cruciate & Collateral ligaments sit in the knee just from the name:

Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL): In the centre of the knee, crossing in front of the Posterior Cruciate Ligament.

Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL): In the centre of the knee, crossing behind the Anterior Cruciate Ligament.

Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL): On the inside of the knee.

Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL): On the outside of the knee.



Superior & Inferior

These two seem straight forward, superior: up, inferior: down! But what happens when we do something silly like a handstand?! Don’t worry, these terms almost always refer to positions when in the Anatomical Position, and don’t change when we move around, for example, the head is always superior to the feet… even if you’re in a handstand.

Superior: Up towards the head / above
Inferior: Down towards the feet / under
Directions_SuperiorInferior.jpg 148.33 KB

How to Remember
These two words are commonly used outside of anatomy, helping you remember their positions: Superior is better, it’s the leader, it’s the head – it’s towards the head! Inferior on the other hand is lower quality, lower down the pecking order, rock bottom… right down towards your feet!

Some examples:

Supraspinatus (rotator cuff muscle)
Above the spine of the scapula

Infraspinatus (rotator cuff muscle)
Under the spine of the scapula

Thoracic Vertebrae are superior to the Lumbar Vertebrae
The Thoracic Vertebrae are above the Lumbar

Your Tensor Fasciae Latae (TFL) blends inferiorly to the IT Band
The bottom of the TFL (closest to your feet) turns into your TB Band


Proximal & Distal

Proximal & Distal requires a limb having an attaching point to the body (or Origin) with the other end not attached, such as your arm, leg… or another appendage that 50% of the population have.

Proximal: Closer to the origin point
Distal: Away from the origin point
Directions_ProximalDistal.jpg 153.62 KB

How to Remember
Think about Proximal being in the “proximity” of the body, whereas Distal is in the “distance”, because it’s further away from your body!

Some examples:

Your hip is proximal to your knee
Your hip is closer to the leg’s origin at the torso.

Proximal Bicep Tendon
 The tendon at the shoulder (closer to the origin at the torso).

Distal Bicep Tendon
 The tendon at the elbow (farther away from the origin at the torso).

Your wrist is distal to your elbow
Your wrist is further away from the arm’s origin at the torso.

So now you the most common Anatomical Directions! Why not check out some Anatomical Movements?


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