06.02 MedTerm Body as a Whole

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Included In This Lesson



  1. Body As A Whole
  1. Cavities
  2. Direction
  3. Planes
  4. Common Terms

Nursing Points


  1. Cavities
    1. Cranial
      1. Crani/o
      2. Pertains to the cranium
    2. Thoracic
      1. Thorac/o
      2. Pertains to the thorax/chest
    3. Abdominal
      1. Abdomin/o
      2. Pertains to the abdomen
    4. Pelvic
      1. Pelv/o
      2. Pertains to the pelvic cavity
    5. Spinal
      1. Spin/o
      2. Pertains to the spinal cavity
  2. Directions & Positional
    1. Anterior &Posterior
      1. Anterior (anter/o)
        1. Toward the front of the body
      2. Posterior (poster/o)
        1. Toward the back side of the body
    2. Deep & Superficial
      1. Deep
        1. Away from the surface
      2. Superficial
        1. Toward the surface
    3. Proximal & Distal
      1. Proximal (proxim/o)
        1. Closest to the body
      2. Distal(dist/o)
        1. Furthest from the body
    4. Inferior & Superior
      1. Inferior (infer/o)
        1. Toward the feet
      2. Superior (super/o)
        1. Toward the head
    5. Medial & Lateral
      1. Medial (medi/o)
        1. Toward midline
      2. Lateral (later/o)
        1. Away from midline
    6. Supine & Prone
      1. Supine
        1. Lying on back
      2. Prone
        1. Lying on abdomen
  3. Planes
    1. Frontal
      1. Coronal plane
      2. Divides the body into anterior & posterior structures
    2. Sagittal
      1. Lateral plane
      2. Divides body into right & left sides
    3. Transverse plane
      1. Cross-sectional or axial plane
      2. Divides body into upper & lower portions
  4. Common terms
    1. abdomin/o – abdominal
    2. cervic/o – neck
    3. chondr/o – cartilage or joint
    4. crani/o – skull
    5. cyt/o – cell
    6. hist/o – tissue 
    7. ventr/o – belly
    8. ana – up
    9. cata – down
    10. epi – above
    11. hyper – excessive/above
    12. hypo – below/low
    13. inter – between
    14. intra – within/into
    15. infra – below (or inferior to)
    16. meta – change


All right in this lesson we’re going to talk about medical terminology as it relates to the body as a whole.
The first thing I’m going to look at are the cavities. There are five specific cavities that we want to reference when we’re using medical terminology. It’s the cranium, the thorax, the abdomen, the pelvic cavity, and the spinal cavity.
Starting at the cranium, this is the cranial cavity and we refer to this as cranio. The thoracic we refer to as thoraco and that’s going to include anything in the chest as well. The abdominal we were referred to as abdomino and with the pelvic cavity we refer to it as pelvo. Lastly we have the spinal cavity and we refer to this as spino.

Now when we talk about directions and positions, I want you to think of them as opposites. There are six groups or going to cover the first three right now.
The first two are anterior and posterior they are opposite. Anterior refers to the front portion of the body and posterior refers to the back. It is more directional. With anterior you refer to it as Antero and with posterior you refer to it as postero.

Next is deep and superficial. Deep is away from the surface and superficial is toward the surface. So if a patient had a superficial laceration that means that the cut is near the surface of the skin. If they have a deep laceration it means that it’s for the inside of whatever cavity or limb where the laceration occurred.

Next is proximal and distal. This one can be really confusing for people, so it’s really important that you understand these well. I always think distal first and distal is being away from the body and I think of it as “distance”. So that helps me. Proximal is the opposite meaning that it’s going to be closer to the body. We refer to this as proximo and distal is referred to as disto.
Now let’s cover the last three. Inferior and Superior refer to relation up and down. So inferior is toward the feet, and Superior is towards the head. The example I like to think of are the eyelids. You have an inferior eyelid which is the lower one and then you have a superior eyelid which is upper. Think of it as Superior is better or higher in a hierarchy, so it’s toward the top. Inferior is infero and Superior is supero.
Next is medial and lateral. The way I Like to remember this is cut yourself right in half right down the midline. So medial and lateral refer to mid-line.  So if something is toward the midline, we refer to this as medio, and lateral is away from midline in this is latero.
Supine and prone refer to positions as opposed to directions. Supine is lying on the back, and prone is lying on the belly. Sometimes in surgery patients will be prone, meaning that they’re laying on their belly so that the providers can access something on their back. This is, that would maybe some sort of spinal surgery.

Planes are really cool but they can also be very confusing. The first one is the frontal plane or the coronal plane and it divides a patient into an anterior and posterior portion. Think about it like this. If you took a patient and you cut them either in the sagittal plane of the transverse plane you’re going to cut part of their face off, and what you want is you want a clear image of their face so you can only cut it one way which is frontal This Way.

The sagittal plane is also known as the lateral plane, and this is going to  divide the patient into right and left sides. Now the transverse plane is a cross-sectional or axial plane. And it divides  Into upper and lower sections.

Now these are just a few of the common terms that refer to the body as a whole.  obviously we have our cavity or directional terms like abdominal and cervical, but there  are also some other important terms like ana and cata . Ana could be short for anabolism, meaning that you’re going to ramp up the metabolism, and then catabolism is that you want to turn down something like catabolism or breaking down something. Then there are terms like hyper and hypo, which are excessive and decrease or low.

I really want you to pay attention to are inter,  intra, and infra. Inter means in between whereas intra means within or into. In front actually means below or inferior to.  These are also listed in several resources associated with this lesson so please go check those out.

Now to recap. What we’re talking about the body as a whole, there are the important cavities that we need to pay attention to, which are cranial, thorax, abdominal, pelvic and the spinal cavities.

The thing you need to remember about directions when it  comes to medical terminology are that there are six groups and they are put together as opposites. There is anterior and posterior,

Deep and superficial, proximal and distal, inferior and Superior, medial and lateral, and Supine and prone.

Don’t forget about the planes that are associated with direction. There’s a frontal plane, sagittal plane, and transverse plane.

And that’s it for our lesson on medical terminology for the body as a whole. Make sure you check out all the resources attached to this lesson. Now, go out and be your best self today and as always, happy nursing!