Friday, August 31, 2012

Anatomical directions

When starting out in A&P, it's important to get a good grasp of how we talk about directions in the human body.  That's so that we can get down to business and really start describing human structures.  Describing them in a way that is accurate enough to be really clear on where those structures are in the body.

The problem is that most of us feel overwhelmed when a long list of rather foreign terms and concepts seem to suddently fall on top of us and make it hard to breathe!

A good approach is to stay calm and look for ways to connect these ideas to simple concepts that are already familiar to us. Following are some examples to get a good start.

Think of the directions of the body as you would ordinary directions like UP, DOWN, FORWARD, BACKWARD, etc.:

  • Superior UP
  • Inferior DOWN

  • Anterior FORWARD
  • Posterior BACKWARD



Notice that the directions above are grouped into opposite pairs.  This is a good way to think of them . . . as pairs of opposites.

Now try the same with these directions:

  • (Anatomical) Left
  • (Anatomical) Right

  • Dorsal
  • Ventral

  • Cortical
  • Medullary

Now look at the diagrams showing anatomical directions in your A&P textbook and lab manual.  If you are using one of my textbooks or manuals , you can find a handy diagram along with a list of direction terms just inside the front or back cover.  My books and manuals also use a an anatomical compass rosette in every illustration, pointing you in the right direction just like the compass rosette found on any ordinary map.

Then try to find similar diagrams by doing an internet image search for "anatomical directions." The more diagrams you look at, the more it will become clear how the directions are used.

Next, try searching for some YouTube videos that explain the anatomical directions of the body.  Here’s a really good one:  

But this is just the beginning.  To truly understand them . . . and to be able to recall them quickly and easily as you must during your A&P course . . . you need to PRACTICE using them.  How you ask?  Aha! I have some strategies that are both fun and effective:

  • Start using them in every conversation.  Explain to your friends or family that the remote is superior to to the television screen but you are about to move it to a position inferior to the screen.  Explain that your pocket is on the lateral side of your jeans.   "Hey look, my shoelaces are dorsal!"  Yes, it's goofy.  But that's part of what makes it effective.  And your friends and family will love helping you study.  Really. The important thing is to do it frequently and throughout  each day . . . until you have reached total mastery.
  • Label your body.  Yep, you read that correctly.  Remember when you were a little kid and you labeled one shoe "left" and one shoe "right" so you could learn your left from your right?  What?! You didn't do that?   Well, if you had then you'd have learned that lesson far more quickly.  Well, here's your chance!  Pin "proximal" and "distal" labels on your sleeve.  Pin a "superior" label on your hat.  Then add an "anterior" label to the front of your hat and a "posterior" label on the back.  Yes, another goofy strategy.  But it's one that works, while also letting others join in the silliness.
    • An extra advantage of this strategy is that when folks see the labels and ask about them, you will be reminded to practice them.  "Oh yeah, I forgot about those labels.  Here, let me explain them to you."  Both the reminder and your explanation of each one will continue to give you the practice you need to master your anatomical directions.
  • Use flash cards to practice anatomical directions.  If you're not already familiar with the many ways to use flash cards to quickly and thoroughly learn anatomical concepts and terminology, check out my many posts describing this method

 In an upcoming post, I'll follow up with some strategies for learning the planes of the body.