Human Anatomy

Human anatomy is a science concerned with studying the regular structure of the human body and its individual parts. The word anatomy is derived from the Greek word “anatomÄ“” which means dissection or “to cut.” Anatomy studies structures which can be seen both with and without the use of the magnifying aids. The term anatomy is usually used when referring to the study of the macroscopic structures or structures that are visible to the human eye. The part of the anatomy that studies the microscopic structure of cells, tissues, and organs is called histology.

Anatomy is a basic medical science that helps physicians to better understand the links between various parts of the body. Regardless of the diagnostic techniques used for examinations, anatomy enables the medical professional to interpret his or her clinical observations correctly. Observations and visualizations are also the essential techniques that help students to learn and understand anatomy. Anatomy is so much more than a list of Latin terms and phrases to be memorized used to name different parts of the body. It is a framework of information that helps medical professionals visualize and determine the position of physiological structures. Apart from medical education, studying anatomy is also a part of the dental, chiropractic, and physical therapy curricula. The knowledge of anatomy also greatly benefits all other professionals who are a part of the patients’ treatment teams.     

What are the approaches to studying anatomy?

There are two approaches to studying anatomy. The regional approach divides the human body into different segments which are studied separately. For example, the anatomy of an arm would describe different bones, muscles, connective tissues, nerves, the vascular network, the lymphatic nodes and other structures that are located in this anatomical region. There are many different regions of the body - the region of the head and neck, thorax, abdomen, upper and lower limbs, pelvis and back. The systematic approach is concerned with studying all parts of the same system throughout the entire human body regardless of the physical location of its components. For example, the anatomy of the nervous system would look at the brain, spinal cord, and all nerves in the body. Similarly, the anatomy of the cardiovascular system would describe the heart and its structure as well as the whole network of blood vessels.

Both regional and systematic approaches have advantages and disadvantages. While the regional approach helps students quickly understand the position of tissues and organs on a cadaver, it cannot be used for understanding how an entire system works. Likewise, the systematic approach provides a framework for understanding the functioning of different systems, but it cannot be used to show the location of all parts of this system in detail on a cadaver.  

What is the anatomical position?

The term anatomic position is used to describe the standard reference position when the body is standing upright, face is looking forward with a closed mouth and neutral expression, the plane that connects the opening of an ear and the lower rim of the eye cavity is parallel to the ground, eyes are open and focused on an object placed in the distance, hands are by the side with palms facing forward, and feet are kept together with the toes pointed forward.

What are anatomical planes?

Anatomical planes are imaginary planes that go through the body while it is in its anatomical position. They are used as a reference to describe the position of different parts of the body. There are three principal anatomical planes: coronal, sagittal, and transverse.  The coronal or frontal plane is a vertical plane that separates the body into anterior (front) and posterior (back) parts. A sagittal plane is also a vertical plane that divides the body into two equal parts: left and right. The transverse plane, also known as the axial or horizontal place, separates the body into lower (inferior) and upper (superior) parts.

Are there any other essential terms used in anatomy?

The terms anterior (ventral) and posterior (dorsal) are used to define the position of body parts in relations to the front and the back of the body. The term anterior is used to describe something that is in the front, while the term posterior is used to describe something located in the back.

The terms medial and lateral are used to describe the position of structures relative to the middle of the body. The term medial is used to describe something that is closer to the sagittal plane, while the term lateral describes something that is positioned further away from this plane.

The terms superior (upper) and inferior (lower) are used to describe the position of structures relative to their vertical position in the transversal plane.




Bernard, S. P., Machado, C. G., Craig, J. A., & Netter, F. H. (2015). Netter's Atlas of Surgical Anatomy for CPT Coding. [Chicago]: American Medical Association.

Dionne, S. I. (2018). Human Anatomy.

ling, J. A. (1996). Human anatomy : color atlas and text / J. A. Gosling ... [et al.] ; photography by A. L. Bentley, J. L. Hargreaves. London ; Baltimore : Mosby-Wolfe, 1996.

Marieb, E. N. (2004). Human anatomy & physiology / Elaine N. Marieb. New York : Pearson Education, c2004.

Marieb, E. N., Mallatt, J., & Wilhelm, P. B. (2008). Human anatomy / Elaine N. Marieb, Jon Mallatt, Patricia Brady Wilhelm. San Francisco : Pearson Benhamin Cummings, c2008.

Netter, F. H. (2014). Atlas of human anatomy / Frank H. Netter. Philadelphia, PA : Saunders/Elsevier, [2014].

Persaud, T. N., Tubbs, R. S., & Loukas, M. (2014). A History of Human Anatomy. Springfield, Illinois, U.S.A.: Charles C Thomas.

Saladin, K. S. (2011). Human anatomy / Kenneth S. Saladin. New York : McGraw-Hill, c2011.


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