Tricks for Remembering Bones in Anatomy

Tricks for Remembering Bones in Anatomy

Students of anatomy courses have a huge amount of information about the human body to learn and remember. When it comes to the skeletal system, students need to learn up to 206 bones. Remembering all these can be difficult, so tricks such as mnemonics -- with their rhymes and acronyms -- are often used. The whimsical, even silly, nature of many mnemonics makes them easy to remember!

1 The Vertebral Column and Cervical Vertebrae

A way to remember the three vertebral subdivisions, and the number of bones they contain, is to link them to mealtimes: seven cervical vertebrae is breakfast at 7 a.m., 12 thoracic is lunch at 12 noon, and five lumbar is dinner at 5 p.m. This works because there is a logical order. The different movements of the top two cervical vertebrae, the atlas and axis, can be remembered by visualizing the Greek god Atlas holding up the Earth, represented by the head, and the Earth rotating sideways on its axis.

2 Cranial Bones and Fontanels

The cranium is the main part of the skull and contains eight bones: occipital, two parietal, frontal, two temporal, ethnoid and sphenoid. A common mnemonic for them is “Old People From Texas Eat Spiders.” Working from the back over the top of the skull, then back to the temporal and working forward again, students come to each bone in turn. A very fitting, and therefore easy to remember, acronym is “PAPA” for the fontanels of the infant skull, standing for the posterior, anterior, posterior-lateral and anterio-lateral bones.

3 Arm and Leg Bones

To distinguish between the tibia and fibula of the lower leg, their size and shape are related to musical instruments: the fibula is thin like a flute, while the tibia is thick like a tuba. This links the first letters and is also a neat visual trick. Like the lower leg, the forearm has two major bones. The ulna is on the pinkie side and the radius on the thumb side, as described by the mnemonic “I cut off my thumb with a radial saw”.

4 Carpal Bones of the Wrist

One popular mnemonics for the carpal bones is “She Looks Too Pretty, Try to Catch Her.” These stand for the scaphoid, lunate, triquetrum, pisiform, trapezium, trapezoid, capitate and hamate bones. The first mnemonic is especially useful because it splits the bones into their two natural groups, the first four forming the row closest to the arm and the second four the row closest to the hand.

Based in Scotland, Clare Smith is a writer specializing in natural science topics. She holds a Master of Science in plant biodiversity from the University of Edinburgh.