August 20, 2021
Anatomy Language | How Body Parts Are Named

Rachel Klaus, Director of Academic Services, Experience Anatomy

This article is brought to you in partnership with Experience Anatomy, a premier anatomy education provider specializing in training and education with true human specimens.


Medical language is just that – an entirely different language. Just like we have created words to describe and classify animals into their kingdoms, phylum, class and species, we have created a vernacular to describe all the parts inside of living creatures.

We have named each bone, ligament and muscle. We even distinguish different fascial planes. A lot of anatomy language is also centered around communicating the precise locations of organs, trauma or cancers.

In a nutshell, it’s highly detailed work to name all this stuff inside our bodies.


In the past, we could only see inside the human body after a person was deceased. Today, medical imaging allows us to see inside a living person's body, giving us greater visibility into our health than ever before.

Doctors must understand human anatomy for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Properly diagnosing conditions from medical images,
  • Isolate which tissues they believe are affected, and
  • Planning a course of treatment.

Often, multiple doctors and healthcare specialists are involved in a patient’s overall course of treatment. These care providers use anatomical and medical language to accurately communicate to each other about their patients.

For example, a physician finds a malignant 13mm tumor in the posterolateral border of the middle lobe of the right lung. Meaning… they found a marble-sized tumor located on the patient’s flank, towards their back.

It’s like medical professionals speak one language at work and an entirely different one at home.


There are three main categories of anatomical terms. Each category notes specific information about a body part.

  • There are directional terms that help medical professionals describe exact locations of organs, trauma, cancers. (superior, inferior, lateral, medial)
  • There are movement terms the help describe exactly how a body is moving (lateral/medial rotation, circumduction, aBDuction, aDDuction, flexion, extension)
  • There are terms that refer to the ways in which we can slice the body to see inside through medical imaging (transverse plane, coronal plane, sagittal plane)

A lot of anatomy names simply state what they are. For example, the talofibular ligament attaches the talus, a bone in the ankle, to the fibula, the bone on the outside ankle. This ligament is often compromised when someone sprains their ankle.


All in all, human anatomy language allows medical professionals and healthcare providers to communicate across the boundaries of their specialities. Plus, we think it sounds pretty cool, too!


Rachel Klaus has been building the academic programming offered by Experience Anatomy since 2019 by integrating her experience and knowledge of various anatomical resources to provide unique educational experiences. 

Rachel received her MS in human anatomy from the University of Colorado School of Medicine where she had the opportunity to work on the Susan Potter Visible Human Project to help develop virtual anatomy resources. In her free time, she likes to recreate outdoors and continue to grow her plant collection.


Hear more from Rachel as a host of our award-winning Orthopedic Anatomy Series

Comments

September 15, 2021

Very interesting and informative!
- Thomas Talbert Jr