Abduction and Adduction

I always have a great time when I teach the anatomical terminology of  movement because students find it so easy to engage with the material. In my Science of Skeletons class I began experimenting with a charades-style activity that required students to quickly learn anatomical directions, motions, and  broad regions (e.g. the appendicular versus axial skeleton). However, one distinction that often trips students up is differentiating between abduction and adduction.


Abduction means movement away from the sagittal plane of the body (or, for fingers and toes, movement away from the midline of the hand or foot).

Adduction refers to movement towards the sagittal plane of the body (or, for fingers and toes, movement towards the midline of the hand or foot).

However because the words are so similar in their spelling, students often forget which term goes with which movement. My fool-proof mnemonic trick for differentiating between the two terms is as follows:

In the summer, when you want to show off your abs at the beach, you keep your arms as far away from your body as possible because it’s so hot out.

In the winter, in constrast, you want to add extra layers to your wardrobe, and you keep your arms close to your body because it is so cold.

I think about ABduction as the process of moving your limbs away from your body when it’s hot out, and ADDuction as the process of keeping your limbs close to your body when it’s cold.
Does anyone else have any creative tricks that they use to differentiate abduction and adduction? Feel free to share tips in the comments!

White, T. D. and P.A. Folkens. (2005) The Human Bone Manual. Elsevier, Amsterdam.

Image Credits: Thor abducting his arm while holding Mjölnir found here, Thor adducting his arm while looking pensive found here. Thor abducting his arm while showing of his abs found here, delighted Thor wearing a cloak found here.

This entry was posted in Anatomy, Bioarchaeology Vocab and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Abduction and Adduction

  1. Aside from the fact that the presentation could clearly benefit from more diagrams? 😉 I think I would probably point out that they ALREADY KNOW the prefixes ad- and ab- from more common vocabulary such as AB-normal, AB-dicate, AD-join, and (always popular in education) AD-junct.


    • JB says:

      Hi RT,

      I agree – there are not enough Thor anatomical diagrams in this world!

      Your point about breaking down words into component parts is also well-taken. I’ll think about that for the next time I teach this.

      – JB


  2. pollyw says:

    Love the post, and your cleverly written image credits tie it all together so nicely!! Your posts always bring me a smile — even in the credits! That’s talent.


  3. Pingback: Bone Broke Year in Review 2015 | Bone Broke

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