Basic Anatomical Positions

Although the basic anatomical positions are supine, prone and lateral, there are many others that are used for different purposes.
Basic Anatomical Positions
Leonardo Biolatto

Written and verified by the doctor Leonardo Biolatto.

Last update: 13 October, 2022

Our anatomical position is the position of our body and is used as a reference to describe the location or direction of the parts or organs that form it. In other words, anatomical positions are used by healthcare personnel to describe our body and its structures.

The so-called standard anatomical position is one in which the person is standing upright and with their head straight. The arms are on both sides of the body, extended, and the palms of the hands are facing upwards.

Numerous anatomical positions are used depending on what is to be studied. There are three basic ones: supine decubitus, prone decubitus, and lateral decubitus. In this article, we’ll explain them to you.

Basic anatomical positions

As we have mentioned, there are three basic anatomical positions. We’ll start by talking about the supine position. In this position, the person is lying face up, on his or her back. The arms are extended next to the body and the legs are also extended and kept together.

This position is considered the most natural and also the most commonly used. It allows examination of the abdomen, thorax, face, and so on. In addition, it’s a safe position for most post-operative procedures, since if the head is placed on its side, it avoids the risk of aspiration in case of vomiting.

Prone position

A man receiving a massage.

This is another of the basic anatomical positions, very similar to the previous one. However, in this one, the patient is lying face down, lying on their abdomen. The legs are together and stretched out, but the arms may be flexed beside the head or stretched out.

This position allows the back to be examined or, in the case of physical therapists, a massage to be performed. It is sometimes used to observe the anus. It is also used after surgery that has been performed on the dorsal part of the body.

Lateral decubitus

Lateral decubitus consists of the person lying on one side. There are actually two types: left and right lateral decubitus. The back is kept straight and aligned with the head and neck.

The arm underneath is extended while the free arm above may be flexed. The knees should be bent, with the free knee slightly further forward than the other.

These anatomical positions are used constantly, as they help to mobilize the patient and prevent complications such as pressure ulcers. They also allow enemas, changing the bed sheets, and even massages.

Other anatomical positions

The truth is that, in addition to the basic anatomical positions we have explained, there are many others that are used depending on the objective to be achieved.

An example is Fowler’s position. In this position, the patient is partially seated in bed. Ideally, the head of the bed should be reclined to about 45°. It’s widely used in hospitals to enable the patient to eat, read, or be more easily treated.

A ill man.

The gynecological position is another of the best known. It’s mainly used to examine the female genital tract, although it’s also used for bladder catheterization, among other things. The patient is placed on their back, with their legs bent and spread on the bed.

The spinal position is very similar to the lateral decubitus position. However, in this position, the patient is placed on the edge of the bed, with both knees bent and the body slightly forward. It’s used to perform a lumbar puncture.


What we must remember is that there are numerous anatomical positions and that all of them are used by health personnel to better access parts of our body or to be able to examine us correctly.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.