The key to learning anatomy is to think about movement
People think in pictures. People think in sound. And, people think in movement
In anatomy class you will see a lot of pictures of bones and muscles with labels. You will handle a lot of body parts that mysteriously fit together like a puzzle. You will hear a lot of lectures about how the body works.
But, the real key to learning anatomy is to understand it in terms of movement. Think of the body moving in three dimensions. Anatomic charts are static. The body parts and models in anatomy laboratory are fixed. Yet, human anatomy is taught in terms of movement as well as appearance.
Where does this body part fit?
Anatomic directional terminology often gives students problems right from the beginning. Is the disassembled bone from the right side or left side of the skeleton? Am I viewing this arm from the front or the back?
Even whether an arm is a right or left one can be puzzling. Do not feel bad if you have trouble with the right and left designation. Even hospitals must go to great lengths to make sure a surgeon does not get mixed up between right and left appendages.
We all think of right and left in terms of our own right and left. Our brains have unconscious memory traces for automatic actions that are hard to overcome when we try to think of the movements of another person. It takes a conscious effort to reverse right and left for a person we are facing.
Mapping out locations of body parts
If you become frustrated with sorting out the terms medial, lateral, caudal and distal, think of them in terms of a map. If you want to plan a route from New York City to San Francisco, first you must know which city is your starting point. You also need to have the concept of north, south, east and west under control to get where you want to go.
Anatomy is much the same way in that you need a fixed starting point—not an easy thing with a body as lanky and flexible as that of a human. The starting point you must learn first is the human ‘anatomical position’. All body parts and connections are named relative to a standing person facing the observer with arms out from his/her side and palms of the hands facing the observer.
Remember always that the ‘right’ and ‘left’ of a person in the anatomical position are opposite your own right and left.
In order to map the movement of a body away from the anatomical position, you need directional terms. Because road maps are flat representations of Earth’s static surface four directions suffice. To map body movement away from the anatomical position in three dimensions, more than 4 directional words are needed.
It is critical to your success in anatomy to study human body directional terms until they are second nature to you. Many students pass over this early part of the course because it seems boring. Yet, directional terms will appear over and over again as you proceed with learning the names and locations of body parts. You need to work on the directional concepts used in anatomy until your brain becomes programmed to think of anatomy in that language.
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Do you have questions?
Do you want to know more about the role movement plays in naming anatomical parts? Please put your questions in the comment box or send me an email at DrReece@MedicalScienceNavigator.com. I read and reply to all comments and email.
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Margaret Thompson Reece PhD, physiologist, former Senior Scientist and Laboratory Director at academic medical centers in California, New York and Massachusetts and CSO at Serometrix LLC is now CEO at Reece Biomedical Consulting LLC.
Dr. Reece is passionate about helping students, online and in person, pursue careers in life sciences. Her books “Physiology: Custom-Designed Chemistry” (2012), “Inside the Closed World of the Brain” (2015) and upcoming “Step-by-step Guide for Study of Physiology” (2016) are written for those new to life science.
Dr. Reece offers a free 30 minute “how-to-get-started” phone conference to students struggling with human anatomy and physiology. Schedule an appointment by email at DrReece@MedicalScienceNavigator.com.by