Pnemonic devices for remembering anatomical directions

Recently I finished Introduction to Clinical Neurology from University of California – San Francisco on Coursera, and discovered to my surprise that I actually enjoy neurology. Who’da thunk?

Naturally, I went on a binge of signing up for other neurology courses. This week was the start of Foundational Neuroscience for Perception and Action from Duke University on Coursera. I wasn’t worried about it until I got a welcome email last week from course professors warning us that the material was difficult and we should be prepared to work our asses off.  So of course I decided to procrastinate on watching any of the lectures.

Today I’ve watched three lectures, and it turns out not to be as terrifying as the original email made it out to be. So far the concepts are things that anyone with a successful high school biology background, Google, and motivation should be able to master.  I suppose it could get worse, but if I don’t run away screaming in the first week of a course, I tend to finish it.

I want to share some awesome pnemonic devices given in the class notes for remembering anatomical directions and that I wish had been shared in AnatomyX – Musculoskeletal Cases, an introductory human anatomy course from Harvard on EdX that was otherwise absolutely awesome. Also some of my own ones mixed in:

  • rostral/caudal: Rostral comes from the Latin word “nose” and means “toward the nose“; caudal means “toward the tail.” Their reference is the long axis of the central nervous system, which is angled.
  • coronal (frontal) plane: Its reference is to the long axis of the body, which is straight (i.e. perpendicular to flat ground when a person is standing up straight). Divides the body into front and back. You can remember it by thinking of a tiara-syle crown (corona), which is heavily decorated on the front and bare in the back.
  • sagittal plane: Its reference is to the long axis of the body. Divides body into left and right (the sagittal view is the side view of the body). Think of Sagittarius, an archer, and how the archer holds a bow in the sagittal plane.
  • axial (horizontal) plane: Perpendicular to the long axis of the body, and parallel to the ground or horizon in a person standing up straight. 
  • ventral/dorsal: Their reference is the long axis of the central nervous system. Dorsum is Latin for “back.” Ventral is from the Latin for “belly.” So ventral is toward the belly, and dorsal is toward the back. (Well, usually. Because humans stand on hind legs, dorsal also refers to the top of the head. Think of cats instead of humans to make remembering this one easier. The top of a cat’s head is on the same side of its spine as its back is, so the “top” in that case can be thought of as “back.”)
  • anterior/posterior: Their reference is to the long axis of the body. “ante-” as in “antenatal” and “antebellum” means “before” -> before the center of the body -> “toward the front side.” Posterior is even easier to remember, because we already use that term to  mean “backside.”
  • superior/inferior: Superior is the tops, inferior is at the bottom. So superior means toward the top of the body, and inferior means toward the bottom.

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