Anatomical planes: are we teaching accurate surface anatomy?

S Mirjalili, S McFadden, Timothy Buckenham, Ben Wilson, M Stringer

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20 Citations (Scopus)


Anatomical planes used in clinical practice and teaching anatomy are largely derived from cadaver studies. Numerous inconsistencies in clinically important surface markings exist between and within anatomical reference texts. The aim of this study was to reassess the accuracy of common anatomical planes in vivo using computed tomographic (CT) imaging. CT scans of the trunk in supine adults at end tidal inspiration were analyzed by dual consensus reporting to determine the anatomy of five anatomical planes: sternal angle, transpyloric, subcostal, supracristal, and the plane of the pubic crest. Patients with kyphosis, scoliosis, or abnormal lordosis, distorting space-occupying lesions, or visceromegaly were excluded. Among 153 thoracic CT scans (mean age 63 years, 53 female), the sternal angle was most common at T4 (females) or T4/5 (males) vertebral level, and the tracheal bifurcation, aortic arch, and pulmonary trunk were most often below this plane. In 108 abdominal CT scans (mean age 60 years, 59 female), the subcostal and supracristal planes were most often at L2 (58 ) and L4 (69 ), respectively. In 52 thoracoabdominal CT scans (mean age 61 years, 56 female), the transpyloric plane was between lower L1 and upper L2 (75 ); in this plane were the superior mesenteric artery (56 ), formation of the portal vein (53 ), tip of the ninth rib (60 ), and the left renal hilum (54 ), but the right renal hilum and gallbladder fundus were more often below. The surface anatomy of anatomical planes needs revising in the light of results from living subjects using modern imaging techniques.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)819 - 826
Number of pages8
JournalClinical Anatomy
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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