The anatomical position in anatomical studies is universal all over the world, regardless of geographical location, native language, area of scientific or academic pursuit, or type of institution. There is no derivative or variation of this corporal position. The universal standardization and acceptance of the anatomical position allows those concerned with the study and/or application of anatomical knowledge to clearly and concisely communicate, devoid of the ambiguities of terms like down, below, up, above, under and over. This helps avoid any confusion with medical or research reports, or other such information that may be passed from one institution to another, or one country to another.
What the anatomical position looks like
The anatomical position of a human is standing upright and fully erect. The arms are out from the side at a slight angle, and the arms and hands are rotated so that the palms are facing outward and the thumbs are pointing away from the body. The legs are straight and slightly apart. The feet are parallel to one another with the toes pointing forward. The head is positioned so that the face is pointing directly forward.
Planes in the anatomy
Once the body is in the anatomical position, it is then mentally divided into three separate planes. These planes are used to establish a reference for anatomical terms, and to provide a direction when comparing positions of structures.
The first plane is called the coronal or frontal plane, which separates the body lengthwise into anterior (front) and posterior (back). The plane begins at the very top of the head and ends at the bottom of the feet. The anterior or front of the body is also called the ventral side. The posterior or back of the body is also called the dorsal side.
The second plane is called the sagittal plane. It is also known as the midsagittal or median sagittal plane. It divides the body lengthwise into left and right sides. If you are moving in a direction towards the sagittal plane, that direction is called medial. If you are moving in a direction away from that plane, it is called lateral.
The third plane is known as the transverse or horizontal plane. This plane runs perpendicular to the sagittal plane, and serves to divide the body into upper (superior) and lower (inferior) halves.
While these planes are understood to run through the approximate center of the body, for purposes of comparative anatomy, they can be shifted so that the two sides are not necessarily symmetrical.
Directions in the anatomical position
Any time an anatomist, kinesiologist, radiologist, pathologist, surgeon or any person refers to right or left, it is always the left or right of the body being studied, and the left or right of the person who is describing the anatomy. When a person is observing a human body in the anatomical position, their right will be the left side of the observed body, and vice versa.