Medical Directional Terms

In any type of personal injury case, but especially medical malpractice cases, personal injury lawyers need to review and understand your medical records. This is why experience matters – an injury lawyer who doesn’t understand what he or she is reading, is at a distinct disadvantage.

Here at Neufeld, Kleinberg & Pinkiert, PA, we believe you should not be left in the dark. Use this is brief primer to familiarize yourself with common directional terms used by the medical profession. When describing parts of your body, doctors may not use terms like: up, down, left and right alone, because those can become ambiguous depending on one’s vantage point.    Below are some of the terms commonly found in medical charts:

  • Anterior = forward (i.e. the direction your nose points)
  • Posterior = backwards (opposite of anterior)
  • Antero-Postero Axis (or A-P Axis) = If we were to draw an imaginary line connecting these   points.
  • Left (lateral) = obvious
  • Right (lateral) = obvious
  • Left-Right Axis (or L-R Axis)= if we were to draw an imaginary line from the left to the right side of your body.
  • Proximal = where an appendage joins the body
  • Distal = outer tip of an appendage
  • Proximodistal Axis = From the tip of an appendage (distal) to where it joins the body (proximal).
  • Median = refers to the middle of the body.
  • Superior = above what is being referenced.
  • Inferior = below what is being referenced.
  • Ipsilateral = refers to the same side as another body part (e.g. the left arm is ipsilatral to the left leg)
  • Contralateral – on the opposite side of another body party (e.g. the left arm is contralateral to the right arm or right leg)
  • Superficial = near the outer surface; opposite is deep profound.
  • Parietal = pertains the wall or lining of a body cavity.
  • Planes

    Planes are just imaginary lines drawn on the body. They are most often used to describe a particular scan such as an MRI which essentially takes many pictures of along imaginary lines depending on the physician’s purpose. Below are the planes that may be referenced in a radiologist’s medical record:

    saggital-coronal-transverse planes

    Transverse Plane:  If I were to take a saw, and cut you in half at your waist, or from ear to ear (left side to right side)… I would be cutting along the transverse plane.

    Sagittal Plane: Divides the body into sinister and dexter (left and right) portions.  If I were to look at your straight on, face-to-face, take a saw, and cut you in half starting from the top of your head, splitting your nose, mouth, chin, splitting the right leg from the left leg entirely….I would be cutting along the sagittal plane.

    Coronal Plane: Divides the body into anterior and posterior (front and back) portions. If I were to look at your profile, and saw you in half, the front of your face would be separated from the back of your head, and your genitalia would be separated from your buttocks (again, this isn’t actually happening, these are just so you can envision the imaginary planes).

    Click here for a glossary of other commonly used medical terms.