Human anatomy

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Human anatomy is the branch of anatomy devoted to the structure of the human body. It cannot be totally divorced from physiology because structure and function go hand in hand.

Approaches to anatomy

The study of anatomy proceeds along two different lines at the same time, regional anatomy and systemic anatomy. Regional anatomy looks at the body according to structure and location, e.g. the eye and the head. When students dissect cadavers, this is the approach that is taken. The systemic approach divides the body according to function, e.g. the digestive system. The regional approach is of great importance, especially for the surgeon. At the same time a systemic knowledge of anatomy allows one to understand how the different parts of the body interrelate.

Many branches of anatomy, e.g. functional anatomy, overlap with physiology. Branches of anatomy include comparative anatomy, functional anatomy, developmental anatomy, pathological anatomy, gross anatomy, microanatomy, histology, and cytology.

The major systems of the human body

  1. Skeletal system
  2. Lymphatic system
  3. Integumentary system
  4. Cardiovascular system
  5. Muscular system
  6. Endocrine system
  7. Nervous system
  8. Respiratory system
  9. Reproductive system
  10. Excretory system
  11. Digestive system
  12. Immune system

Traditionally there were only eleven systems but as knowledge has grown, the immune system, sometimes called the lymphoid system, has been added because of its great importance, even though it is closely allied to the lymphatic system. The excretory system is also referred to as the urinary system.

Memory aids for the systems of the human body

A mnemonic for the traditional eleven systems is:


For all twelve, you might use:

    • Reproductive
    • Excretory
    • Lymphatic
    • Immune
    • Cardiovascular
    • Skeletal
    • Respiratory
    • Endocrine
    • Muscular
    • Integumentary
    • Nervous
    • Digestive

Anatomical orientation

Anatomy may involve dissecting or cutting up the body (cadaver). Most anatomy courses incorporate theoretical and practical training. A firm understanding of anatomical orientation is essential in learning, understanding, and communicating anatomical topics. Anatomical planes are imaginary planes through the body used to describe the orientation of a section. A person in the standard anatomical position is standing up straight with the arms hanging at the sides and with the palms of the hands facing in the same direction as the face.

Anatomical Position - This is copyrighted but free for educational use
  • Planes and sections
    • median
    • sagittal
    • coronal/frontal
    • transverse/cross
    • oblique
  • Terms of position and direction
    • cranial/superior/rostral
    • caudal/inferior
    • anterior/ventral
    • posterior/dorsal
    • medial
    • lateral
    • proximal
    • distal
    • superficial
    • deep
    • ipsilateral
    • contralateral

The history of anatomy

Learning anatomy

Anatomy is thoroughly studied in medical school in through lectures, textbooks, atlases (illustrative and photographic), dissection of cadavers, models, demonstrations, videos, and now the Internet.

Cadaver shortage

Reference books

  1. Gray's Anatomy – Henry Gray et al.
  2. The Anatomy Coloring Book – Wynn Kapit / Lawrence M. Elson
  3. McMinn's Colour Atlas of Human Anatomy – P.H. Abrahams / R.T. Hutchings / S.C. Marks Jr
  4. Atlas of Human Anatomy - Frank Netter
  5. Color Atlas of Anatomy - Rohen / Yokochi / Lütjen-Drecoll
  6. Imaging Atlas of Human Anatomy - Jamie Weir / Peter H Abrahams
  7. Essential Clinical Anatomy - Moore / Agur
  8. Atlas of Clinical Gross Anatomy - Kenneth Moses / John Banks / Pedro Nava / Darrell Petersen

Reference video atlases

Acland's DVD Atlas of Human Anatomy, Set of Six DVDs

Reference links

  1. - Gray's Anatomy – Henry Gray et al. (20th ed. 1918)(has annoying pop behinds)
  4. e-Anatomy - Interactive atlas of whole human body cross-sectional anatomy.