Learning Medical Terms

If you’ve ever been to a physical therapy clinic, you may have heard terminologies that sounded familiar when you were at the doctor’s office or the hospital if you’ve had surgery. They are using medical terms that has equivalent common terms we use and know. If you want to be in the know, then this is a quick reference for you. Rest assured that your PT will be impressed and will probably think you took Anatomy and Physiology 101 on your next visit.


Medical Terms                                    Common Terms

Cervical                                               Neck

Cervical flexion                                   Look down

Cervical extension                               Look up

Cervical Rotation                                Look over Right or Left shoulder

Cervical Lateral Flexion                      Bend neck to the right or left side


Scapula                                                Shoulder blades

Clavicle                                               Collar bone

Humerus                                             Shoulder bone

Radius and Ulna                                  Forearm bones

Shoulder flexion                                  Arm forward and up

Shoulder abduction                             Arm to side/ Snow angel

Supination                                           Palm up

Pronation                                            Palm down


Thoracic                                              Mid back

Lumbar                                                Lower back

Lumbar flexion                                    Reach for toes

Lumbar extension                               Bend back

Lumbar Rotation                                 Twist to the right or the left

Lumbar Lateral Flexion                       Reach for the side of the right or left leg


Pelvis                                                   Hip

Hip Flexion                                          Pretend to sit down or squat

Hip extension                                      Kick the leg back

Hip Internal Rotation                          Turn leg in

Hip External Rotation                          Turn leg out

Hip Abduction                                     Bring leg out to the side


Patella                                                 Knee cap

Knee extension                                    Straigthen the knee

Knee flexion                                        Bend the knee


Gastroc                                                Calf muscles

Plantar Flexion                                    Heel raise

Dorsiflexion                                         Toe raise

Ankle Inversion                                   Turn foot in

Ankle Eversion                                    Turn foot out


Cardiac                                                Refers to the heart

Pulmonary                                           Refers to the lungs

Edema                                                 Swelling


Now that you’ve learned these terminologies, you can start using them for your benefit on you next doctor’s or physical therapy visit. And the next time you hear them say any of these words, you will kind of have an idea of what they may be talking about. Of course, there’s a whole lot more to learn about but these may come in handy next time. Remember, it won’t hurt to learn a few things here and there. You got this!#


Rhia Vista, PTA

Posted in: Medical Education

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