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Biomechanics & Movement Science
Medical Rehab Terms
Human Performance Terms
Disability Terms/Concepts & Rehab Research Terminology
Prosthetic-Orthotic-Assistive Techn Terms


You should know the terms in the tables that follow.  

For nice visuals of orthopedic and neuromuscular anatomy from the web, see:

Textbook of Orthopedics  

Wheeless’ Textbook of Orthopedics – Anatomy

Loyola U. Medical Center’s Structure of the Human Body , and in particular the Master Muscle List



A. Anatomical planes

Sagittal plane (median plane) 

any vertical plane that divides body into left and right portions (“midsagittal” divides into equal left and right, i.e. through midline)

Frontal (coronal) plane  

any vertical plane that divides into anterior and posterior portions

Transverse (horizontal) plane 

any horizontal plane that divides into superior and inferior portions

B. Anatomical directions, positions, relationships 

Prone vs supine

lying on stomach (face downward) vs lying on back (face upward)

anterior vs posterior 

towards front vs back

superior vs inferior 

towards vs away from head

medial vs lateral  

towards vs away from midline (or middle) of trunk

dorsal vs ventral  

back portion of trunk or extremity vs front portion of body or extremity

proximal vs distal 

Towards (next to) or away from trunk or point of attachment

superficial vs deep 

outward or nearer surface vs inward or further from skin surface

hand: palmer (volar) vs dorsal surface 

anterior vs superior portion of forearm and hand

foot: plantar vs dorsal surface 

superior vs inferior portion of the foot)

valgus vs varus deformity 

an abnormal position in which part of limb is turned inward toward midline (e.g., knock-knee) vs bent outward (e.g., bow-legged)

afferent vs efferent 

toward CNS (e.g., sensory input signals) vs away from CNS (e.g., motor signals)

ipsilateral vs contralateral 

same side vs opposite side of body

2 legged: 

superior-cranial vs inferior-caudal;  

anterior-ventral vs posterior-dorsal

4 legged: 

superior-dorsal vs inferior-ventral;  

anterior-cranial vs posterior-caudal

C. Bones and Muscles to Know (names, what they articulate with)

Upper Extremity 

Bones: Scapula, humerus, radius, ulna, # of carpals = 7 (with talus part of ankle joint), # of metacarpals (5), # of phalanges/phalanx (14, i.e. 3 each finger, 2 thumb).

Muscles:  biceps, brachialis, brachioradialis, triceps, pectoralis major and minor, latissimus dorsi, deltoid, rotator cuff


Bones: Skull, cervical (C1-C7), thoracic (T1-T13), Lumbar (L1-L5), sacrum, sternum, 26 ribs, clavicle (2), pubis symphasis.

Muscles: trapezius, sternocleidomastoid, splenius, erector spinae, internal & external obliques, abdominal

Lower extremity

Bones: femur, patella, tibia, fibula, # tarsals = 7, # metatarsals = 5, # phanges = 14.

Muscles: gluteus maximus and minimus, illiopsoas, quadriceps (3 vasti, rectus femoris), hamstrings, gastrucnemius, soleus, tibialis anterior

D. Other Key Skeletal and Connective Tissue Terminology


An abnormal bony or fibrous fusion of a joint.

Annular Ligament

Circular or ring-shaped ligament

Arachnoid Membrane 

The middle of three membranes protecting the brain and spinal cord.  


Movement of the lips, tongue, teeth and palate into specific patterns for purposes of speech. Also, a movable joint.  


A strong, fibrous protein found in connective tissues, including the dermis, tendons, ligaments, deep fascia, bond and cartilage.


Distortion of any part or general disfigurement of the body (may be acquired or congenital).


A connective tissue cell that produces collagen, elastin and reticular fibers.


Formation of abnormal fibrous tissue.


Abnormally increased convexity in the curvature of the thoracic spine as viewed from the side.


Pertaining to that area immediately below the thoracic spine; the strongest part of the spine, the lower back. 


Complete or partial dislocation, or loss of joint alignment (as in shoulder).  


Pertaining to the chest, vertebrae or spinal cord segments between the cervical and lumbar areas.  


The bones that make up the spinal column. 

E. Other Key Neuromuscular Terminology


Wasting or decrease in size of a tissue, organ or entire body resulting from death or resorption of cell, and diminished cellular proliferation due to disuse (decreased activity) or other changes (e.g., malnutrition, denervation, hormonal).


The loss of nerve fiber "insulation" due to trauma or disease, which reduces the ability of nerves to conduct impulses (as in multiple sclerosis and some types of spinal cord injury). Some intact but non working nerve fibers might be coaxed into remyelination, or re-firing, thus restoring function.


A form of paralysis in which muscles are soft and limp.  


An increase in the size of a tissue, structure, or organ of the body, owing to growth rather than tumor formation (opposite of atrophy).


The primary function of the hand (includes pinching, grasping, and manipulation of objects).


The sensory awareness of the position of body parts with or without movement. Combination of kinesthesia and position sense.  


An involuntary response to a stimulus involving nerves not under control of the brain. In some types of paralysis, reflexes cannot be inhibited by the brain and they become exaggerated, thereby causing spasms.  

Synergistic Muscle 

A muscle that aids or cooperates with another.

F. Key Terminology Associated with Central Nervous System (CNS)


A sac created by expansion of an artery, vein, or the heart. 


The main portion of the brain that includes the two cerebral hemispheres; this term is also used to refer to the entire brain. 

Autonomic Nervous System 

The part of the nervous system that controls involuntary activities, including heart muscle, glands, and smooth muscle tissue. The autonomic nervous system is subdivided into the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. Sympathetic activities are marked by the flight or fight emergency response, initiated by way of the transmitter norepinephrine (adrenaline).  Parasympathetic activities are known by lowered blood pressure, pupil contradiction and slowing of the heart.  


The nerve fiber that carries an impulse from the nerve cell to a target, and also carries materials from the nerve terminals back to the nerve cell. When an axon is cut, proteins required for its regeneration are made available by the nerve cell body. A growth cone forms at the tip of the axon. In the spinal cord, a damaged axon is often prepared to re-grow, and often has available a supply of materials to do so. Scientists believe it is the toxic environment that surrounds the axon, and not the genetic programming of the axon itself, that prevents regeneration.  


The lower extension of the brain where it connects to the spinal cord. Neurological functions located in the brainstem include those necessary for survival (breathing, heart rate) and for arousal (being awake and alert).  

Central Nervous System (Cns) 

The CNS includes the brain and spinal cord. The prevailing theory is that CNS cells won't repair themselves. Experiments show, however, that CNS nerves can re-grow and reconnect to appropriate targets. A clinical "fix" for spinal cord injury has not yet been found.  


The portion of the brain (located in the back) that helps coordinate movement. Damage may result in ataxia.  

Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF) 

A colorless solution similar to plasma protecting the brain and spinal cord from shock. Csf circulates through the subarachnoid space. For diagnosis purposes, a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) is used to draw csf.  


The upper spine (neck) area of the vertebral column. Cervical injuries often result in quadriplegia (tetraplegia). 

Complete Lesion 

An injury with no motor or sensory function below the zone of cord destruction at the site of primary trauma.  


 A bruising of the neural tissues of the brain.  


 A blow to the head at the site of impact.  

Contra Coup 

 Injury to the brain resulting from a blow to the opposite side of the head. Impact blows to the head cause the brain to be pushed against the inner surface of the skull opposite the side of impact.  


Removal of the brain or cutting the spinal cord at the level of the brain stem. 


Loss of nerve supply to muscle or skin, resulting in paralysis or loss of sensation, respectively.


Microscopic tree-like fibers extending from a nerve cell (neuron). They are receptors of electrochemical nervous impulse transmissions. The total length of dendrites within the human brain exceeds several hundred thousand miles.  

Dorsal Root 

The collection of nerves entering the dorsal section (on the back) of a spinal cord segment. These roots share central and peripheral nerve connections, and enter the spinal cord in an area called the dorsal root entry zone (drez).  

Dura Mater 

The outermost of three membranes protecting the brain and spinal cord, it is tough and leather like  

Frontal Lobe 

Front part of the brain; involved in planning, organizing, problem solving, selective attention, personality and a variety of "higher cognitive functions."  


A mass of nervous tissue composed principally of nerve-cell bodies and lying outside the brain or spinal cord  

Incomplete Lesion 

A spinal cord lesion in which some sensation or muscle function below the level of injury is preserved.  


A circumscribed area of pathologically altered tissue (bruise, injury or wound).

Lower Moto Neurons 

These nerve fibers originate in the spinal cord and travel out of the central nervous system to muscles in the body. An injury to these nerve cells can destroy reflexes and may also affect bowel, bladder and sexual function.  

Lower Motor Neuron Lesions 

Any damage to the lower motor neuron or its axon (peripheral nerve) that separates the lower motor neuron from control of its muscle fibers. This type of lesion leads to flaccidity and muscle atrophy.  

Motor Neuron 

A nerve cell whose cell body is located in the brain and spinal cord and whose axons leave the central nervous system by way of cranial nerves or spinal roots. Motor neuron supply information to muscle. A motor unit is the combination of the motor neuron and the set of muscle fibers it innervates.  


A white, fatty insulating material for axons which produced in the peripheral nervous system by Schwann cells, and in the central nervous system by oligodendrocytes. Myelin is necessary for rapid signal transmission along nerve fibers, ten to one hundred times faster than in bare fibers lacking its insulation properties. Loss of myelin accompanies many central nervous system injuries and is the principal cause of multiple sclerosis. The process of remyelination is very important in spinal cord injury research. If this is possible in the body, as many researchers believe, it may be possible to return function to intact nerve fibers. Oligodendrocytes are apparently unable to provide myelin in the mature central nervous system.  


A group of muscles innervated be a single spinal segment (nerve root).


A nerve cell that can receive and send information by way of synaptic connections.  


A chemical released from a neuron ending, at a synapse, to either excite or inhibit the adjacent neuron or muscle cell. Stored in vesicles near the synapse, the chemical is released when an impulse arrives.  


A central nervous system glial cell. Oligodendrocytes are the site of myelin manufacture for central nervous system neurons (the job of schwann cells in the peripheral nervous system). A myelin protein from oligodendrocytes is known to be a potent inhibitor of nerve growth.  

Parietal Lobe 

One of the two parietal lobes of the brain located behind the frontal lobe at the top of the brain.   Damage to the right side causes visuo-spatial deficits (e.g., the person may have difficulty finding their way around new or familiar places).  Damage to the left side may disrupt a person's ability to understand spoken and/or written language.

Peripheral Nervous System 

Nerves outside the spinal cord and brain (not part of the central nervous system). If damaged, peripheral nerves have the ability to regenerate.  


 Compound word.  Rrostral meaning resembling a break, and caudal meaning tail. 


 The region beneath the cerebral cortex.  


The specialized junction between a neuron and another neuron or muscle cell for transfer of information such as brain signals, sensory inputs, etc., along the nervous system. One neuron may have many synapses with other neurons. As an impulse traveling along a nerve fiber arrives at the pre-synaptic area, it releases a neurotransmitter. The transmitter travels across the synapse and binds with a receptor on the post-synaptic membrane of the other cell. 

Temporal Lobes 

There are two temporal lobes, one on each side of the brain, at about the level of the ears. These lobes allow a person to tell one smell from another and one sound from another. They also help in sorting out new information and are believed to be responsible for short-term memory.  

Upper Motor Neurons 

Long nerve cells that originate in the brain and travel in tracts through the spinal cord. Any injury to these nerves cuts off contact with brain control. Reflex activity is still intact, however resulting in spasticity. For men with upper motor neuron injuries, reflex erections are possible.  

Ventricles, Brain 

Four natural cavities in the brain which are filled with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). The outline of one or more of these cavities may change when a space-occupying lesion (hemorrhage, tumor) has developed in a lobe of the brain.  

Vestibular Nerve

A main division of the auditory nerve.  Arises in the ganglion and is concerned with equilibrium.  

G. Other Key Physiological Terms Impacting on Rehabilitation Bioengineering


A balloon-like deformity in the wall of a blood vessel. The wall weakens as the balloon grows larger, and may eventually burst, causing a hemorrhage.  


Absence of blood supply.


Collection of excess fluid in soft tissues, causing swelling.  


Compression of a nerve or vessel by adjacent tissue.


The collection of blood in tissues or a space following rupture of a blood vessel. Epidural:  Outside the brain and its fibrous covering, but under the skull. Subdural: Between the brain and its fibrous covering. Intracerebral:  In the brain tissue. 

Interstitial Fluid 

The fluid found among the cellular and fibrous elements of tissues.


Narrowing or constricting of a passage or opening (e.g., diameter of a blood vessel).


Beneath the dura (tough membrane) covering the brain and spinal cord.  


A clot in a vein due to diminished blood flow which can occur in a paralyzed leg. Symptoms include swelling and redness.  



Copyright by Jack Winters.
For problems or questions regarding this web contact Jack Winters.
Last updated: February 27, 2001.