Proximal vs Distal

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    Can somebody please explain to me what these terms mean in plain English? I cannot seem to grasp this.
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  3. 14 Comments so far...

  4. 3
    Sure thing!!!

    Proximal means closer to the point of attachment -- I remember this by thinking in terms of 'in the proximity of...' Meaning nearby.
    Distal means the opposite of proximal- further away from the point of attachment. I remember this by thinking of 'distance'. If something is distant, it's farther away than being close enough to be considered 'in the proximity of' something.

    Hopefully that makes sense for you!!! It might not, I have been doing schoolwork all day, so my mind is mush!!
    Asteria, Kandy83, and jenealle like this.
  5. 0
    First off, you must imagine the body in the anatomical position, standing, with arms at the sides and palms facing forward. Proximal and distal are relative to the point of origin (where the attachment is located on the body). Once you consider where the point of origin is, then proximal is closest to that point and distal is farther or more distant to the point of origin.
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    Thanks you guys.


    So is the point of origin where it attaches to the trunk? I guess I am confused in closer or further from WHAT?
  7. 0
    Quote from stephanne
    Thanks you guys.


    So is the point of origin where it attaches to the trunk? I guess I am confused in closer or further from WHAT?
    It depends on the context. For example, in my first job I worked in neurosurgery. We had a high number of patients with hydrocephalus who were VP shunt dependent. When these shunts failed, they had to undergo revisions. These revisions could be distal (revisions to the part of the shunt in the belly) or proximal (revisions to the part of the shunt in the head)- this is the proximal part because the shunt originates in the head.
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    Quote from stephanne
    Thanks you guys.


    So is the point of origin where it attaches to the trunk? I guess I am confused in closer or further from WHAT?
    Basically, yes.

    An example...the wrist is distal to the elbow since the wrist is farther from the arm's point of attachment to the body. One of the bones that goes between the wrist and the elbow is the radius. The distal end of the radius would be the end farther from the attatchement to the body...i.e. the end of the radius at the wrist.
  9. 0
    Quote from psu_213
    Basically, yes.

    An example...the wrist is distal to the elbow since the wrist is farther from the arm's point of attachment to the body. One of the bones that goes between the wrist and the elbow is the radius. The distal end of the radius would be the end farther from the attatchement to the body...i.e. the end of the radius at the wrist.
    Because proximal and distal both reference from where the limb attaches to the trunk, when describing something on that limb, you have to reference some other point. For example, the wrist is distal to the elbow and proximal to the metacarpal bones. Everything is distal to the glenohumeral joint and proximal to the distal phalanges.

    If the body is an anatomical position, you could also potentially reference a spot on an arm or leg as "superior to" or "inferior to" as long as you specify what you are referencing from. Given that the body is rarely put in anatomical position, I would be much more inclined to use "proximal" and "distal" when referencing something on a limb.
  10. 0
    Thanks everyone for the help!! I understand it now. I feel better haha
  11. 0
    I used to tell my students - think in terms of the heart. Things closer to the heart are more 'proximal'.
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    Proximal is used with reference to the limbs. One structure is closer to the median plane or the root of the limb than another structure in the limb. Distal refers to limbs when a structure is further away from the median plane or the root of the limb than another structure in the limb. (Anatomy Coloring Book.)


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