When Do We Use Anatomical Position?

Anatomical Position

If we are going to communicate clearly about something, in this case kinesiology, then it’s important that we agree on a language to use. As you’ve no doubt already begun to realize, movement can be complicated! This is where having a language that means something specific is important. In anatomy and kinesiology we use directional terms and terms that describe the most basic movements to help us describe where things are in relationship to one another. ‘Anatomical position’ is another term that helps us be specific about what we’re describing.

What does anatomical position look like?

There are really two anatomical positions. There is one position considered western and another considered eastern. They are more similar than different, but they do have some slight differences. In the western position, we are looking at a person standing who is facing forward, with their legs slightly apart, with arms by their sides, and their palms facing forward. In the eastern position the feet may be positioned together and the hands may be held above the head rather than by the sides of the body.

Most of the time, if you see or hear a reference to anatomical position, it means the western position. Whether you are a massage therapist, physical therapist, personal trainer, nurse, doctor, or any other healthcare provider, you’ll need to know anatomical position. However, if you are studying Chinese medicine, acupuncture, or another eastern medicine specialty, you might also see a reference to anatomical position. In that case, it may mean the eastern position.

What are the limitations of anatomical position?

Although having a place to start describing the body is useful, there are certainly some limitations to our idea of describing movement from anatomical position. If you think about how you move around in daily life, it’s probably pretty rare that you would find yourself standing in exactly this position. Perhaps you’re a yoga teacher and have students initiating a movement from lying supine on the floor? Maybe you’re a personal trainer and have clients moving from a hanging position? Real, organic movement begins from all kinds of positions.

Anatomical position is useful for gaining an understanding of how things are oriented in the body and what the basic movements are, but at some point you need to see past the constraints of it. Once you’re feeling comfortable with the concept of anatomical position, it’s important to take that idea out into the world of organic movement and apply it there. If you want to learn more about the history of anatomical language and terms, check out this article in the National Library of Medicine.