Anatomy for Average Joes #2: Other Reference Terms

This article will expand on the arsenal of reference terms you learned in the first ‘Anatomy for Average Joes’ article, a series I’m doing to help the every-man get his teeth sunk into understanding anatomy and by extension, fitness as a whole. If you haven’t read the first post, it’s very important that you read it before reading this one. Check it out here, and check this out for the main page for this series


Distal and Proximal are terms used in anatomy to describe how far or close something is from the trunk (torso). A good way to remember these terms is Distal is similar to distance, and so if something is ‘distal’ then it is more distant from the trunk. Proximal is similar to Proximity which is a word usually used to describe how near something is, e.g. ‘Spain is in close proximity to Portugal’. Therefore, if something is proximal, it is closer to the trunk.

Examples include: your hands are distal to your elbows, because your hands are further from your trunk than your elbows. In the same vein, elbows are distal to the shoulders. Conversely, Hips are proximal to the knees because they are closer to the trunk than your knees. Again, knees are proximal to the feet.

You might be thinking that distal/proximal are sounding pretty similar right now to superior/inferior. In all those cases above, those that were proximal were also superior, and those that were distal were also inferior. However, in a few cases they are different. For example, the chin is proximal to the forehead, but the forehead is superior to the chin. See? Opposites.

Also, you might be thinking distal/proximal sounds similar to medial/lateral, but they are also distinctly different. E.g. Last time we said pinky was medial to the thumb, but -more or less- they are an equal distance from the trunk.


This one is pretty intuitive. Deep and Superficial are terms used to describe how close to the skin a structure is.

Example: Your muscles are deep to your skin. Your muscles are superficial to your bones. Your Lungs are deep to the ribs, and ribs are superficial to the lungs.


These are pretty specific terms, used primarily to describe the surfaces of the hands and feet. Plantar and Palmar (terms used exclusively for the foot, and hand, respectively) are easy peasy. The Palmar surface of your hand is the one with your PALM on it! The plantar surface is the one you ‘plant’ into the ground when you take a step; in other words, the sole of your foot.  In both the hands and feet, the ‘dorsal’ surface refers to the back of it. The easy way to remember this is to think of how a ‘dorsal fin’ on a dolphin is on its back, not its belly.


These are almost but not quite all the anatomical reference terms out there, but they are definitely all the terms you need to know from a fitness perspective. Now that you know these, we can move on to actually starting to describe movements in the body, starting with the planes of motion! See you next time!

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