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1.4A: Anatomical Position

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    When an organism is in its standard anatomical position, positional descriptive terms are used to indicate regions and features.

     

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

     

    Describe the standard position in human anatomy

     

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

     

    • In standard anatomical position, the limbs are placed similarly to the supine position imposed on cadavers during autopsy.
    • The anatomical position of the skull is the Frankfurt plane. In this position, the lower margins of the orbitals (eye sockets), the lower margin of the orbits, and the upper margins of the ear canals (poria) lie in the same horizontal plane.
    • Because animals can change orientation with respect to their environments and appendages can change position with respect to the body, positional descriptive terms refer to the organism only in its standard anatomical position to prevent confusion.

     

    Key Terms

     

    • appendage: A limb of the body.
    • supine: Lying on its back, reclined.
    • anatomical position: The standard position in which the body is standing with feet together, arms to the side, and head, eyes, and palms facing forward.

     

    The Need for Standardization

     

    Standard anatomical position is the body orientation used when describing an organism’s  anatomy.  Standardization is necessary to avoid confusion since most organisms can take on many different positions that may change the relative placement of organs. All descriptions refer to the organism in its standard anatomical position, even when the organism’s appendages are in another position. Thus, the standard anatomical position provides a “gold standard” when comparing the anatomy of different members of the same species.

    This image shows two female figures to demonstrate correct anatomical position labeling. The figure at left is turned to the side, with labels indicating that cranial refers to features toward the head while caudal refers to features that are closer to the feet. The front of the body is referred to as anterior or ventral, while the back is referred to as posterior or dorsal. The figure at right is facing forward in standard anatomical position. Labels indicate that proximal and distal are used to refer to the top and bottom of limbs, respectively. Medial is the term used for the center of the body, and lateral refers to features that are parallel to the medial.

    Relative location in the anatomical position: Many terms are used to describe relative location on the body. Cranial refers to features closer to the head, while caudal refers to features closer to the feet. The front of the body is referred to as anterior or ventral, while the back is referred to as posterior or dorsal. Proximal and distal describe relative position on the limbs. Proximal refers to a feature that is closer to the torso, while distal refers to a feature that is closer to the fingers/toes. Medial and lateral refer to position relative to the midline, which is a vertical line drawn through the center of the forehead, down through the belly button to the floor. Medial indicates a feature is closer to this line, while lateral indicates features further from this line.

     

    Standard Anatomical Position in Humans

     

    The standard anatomical position is agreed upon by the international medical community. In this position, a person is standing upright with the lower limbs together or slightly apart, feet flat on the floor and facing forward, upper limbs at the sides with the palms facing forward and thumbs pointing away from the body, and head and eyes directed straight ahead. In addition, the arms are usually placed slightly apart from the body so that the hands do not touch the sides. The positions of the limbs, particularly the arms, have important implications for directional terms in those appendages.

    The basis for the standard anatomical position in humans comes from the supine position used for examining human cadavers during autopsies. Dissection of cadavers was one of the primary ways humans learned about anatomy throughout history, which has tremendously influenced the ways by which anatomical knowledge has developed into the scientific field of today.

    Diagram of male body in standard anatomical position, with all regions and features labeled along with the appropriate adjective for that feature. Anterior view, from top: Frons or forehead (frontal), cranium or skull (cranial), ocolus or eye (ocular), bucca or cheek (buccal), auris or ear (aural), facies or face (facial), nasus or nose (nasal), oris or mouth (oral), cervicis or neck (cervical), mentis or chin (mental), thorax or chest (thoracic), mamma or breast (mammary), axilla or armpit (axillary), brachium or arm (brachial), antecubitis or front of elbow (antecubital), antebrachium or forearm (antebrachial), carpus or wrist (carpal), pollex or thumb, palma or palm (palmar), digits or phalanges or fingers (phalangeal), abdomen (abdominal), umbilicus or navel (umbilical), hip (coxal), pelvis (pelvic), inguen or groin (inguinal), pubis (pubic), femur or thugh (femoral), patella or kneecap (patellar), crus or leg (crural), tarsus or ankle (tarsal), digits or phalanges or toes (digital or phalangeal), pes or foot (pedal). Posterior view from top: Cephalon or head (cephalic), shoulder (acromial), dorsum or back (dorsal), brachium or arm (brachial), olecranon or back of elbow (olecranial), lumbus or loin (lumbar), sacrum (sacral), antebrachium or forearm (antebrachial), manus or hand (manual), gluteus or buttock (gluteal), femur or thigh (femoral), popliteus or back of knee (popliteal), sura or calf (sural), calcaneus or heel of foot (calacaneal), planta or sole of foot (plantar). Also labeled: Upper limb, which is the arm extending from shoulder to fingertip, and lower limb which is the leg extending from thigh to toe.

    Standard anatomical position: The regions of the body in standard anatomical position, in which the body is erect.

    In humans, the standard anatomical position of the skull is called the Frankfurt plane. In this position, the orbitales (eye sockets), lower margins of the orbits, and the poria (ear canal upper margins) all lie in the same horizontal plane. This orientation represents the position of the skull if the subject were standing upright and looking straight ahead.

    It is important to note that all anatomical descriptions are based on the standard anatomical position unless otherwise stated.