3 Facts about Surface Anatomy for Students in an Occupational Therapy Assistant Program

occupational therapist assistant course

Surface anatomy is a part of gross anatomy, or the study of tissues and organs that are visible to the naked eye. These visible parts are also known as the macroscopic level. Surface anatomy is specifically the external features of the body that can be seen without dissection. For occupational therapy, being familiar with the human body is foundational. Also referred to as superficial anatomy or visual anatomy, surface anatomy allows practitioners to locate landmarks and use palpation, which is physical examination through touching the surface of the body. Read on for some facts about this important part of studying to become an occupational therapy assistant.

1. Surface Anatomy uses Directional Terms from Occupational Therapy Assistant Courses

Directional terms are used in anatomy to be clear about locations on the body as well as to describe movements. The starting point for directional terms is the anatomical position, in which a person is standing facing forward, with their arms at their sides and palms facing forward. From there, we can use terms such as superior or inferior, meaning upper or lower, or posterior and anterior, meaning back and front. These words will allow you to understand and communicate with the occupational therapist (OT) you assist when you become an occupational therapy assistant, for example, when helping with exercises or activities for coordination.

Directional terms may come up in your career when assisting with exercises from the OT

Directional terms may come up in your career when assisting with exercises from the OT

2. Surface Anatomy Establishes Landmarks for after Occupational Therapy Assistant Courses

When assisting an occupational therapist, you may notice that they use bony landmarks to orient themselves on a client’s body, or use them to communicate with you. Much like geographical landmarks like the CN Tower in Toronto or Fort Henry in Kingston, they are used as reference points (combined with directional terms) to understand the map of the human body and stay oriented. This is also a way to refer to areas of concern or focus in ways that both you and the OT you assist will understand. An example of a bony landmark is the C7 spine at the back of the neck.

3. Palpation Inspects Clients Using Surface Anatomy

Palpation is used by many professionals including osteopaths, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and massage therapists to examine the body by touching its surface. After completing an occupational therapy assistant program, you may notice different methods for gathering information that the OT you assist uses. For example, they may use techniques like asking a client questions or observing how they move. Palpation is another method that requires knowledge of surface anatomy and landmarks, using the hands to feel surface tissues and bony protrusions.

Palpation is a method of gathering information about a client, using touch on the surface of their body

Palpation is a method of gathering information about a client, using touch on the surface of their body

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