1-1-2. Overview of Anatomy and Physiology
Like most scientific disciplines, anatomy has areas of specialization.
Gross and Microscopic Anatomy
Anatomists take two general approaches to the study of the body’s structures: regional and systemic.
Whereas anatomy is about structure, physiology is about function. Human
Like anatomists, physiologists typically specialize in a particular branch of physiology. For example, neurophysiology is the study of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves and how these work together to perform functions as complex and diverse as vision, movement, and thinking. Physiologists may work from the organ level (exploring, for example, what different parts of the brain do) to the molecular level (such as exploring how an electrochemical signal travels along nerves).
Form is closely related to function in all living things. For example, the thin flap of your eyelid can snap down to clear away dust particles and almost instantaneously slide back up to allow you to see again. At the microscopic level, the arrangement and function of the nerves and muscles that serve the eyelid allow for its quick action and retreat. At a smaller level of analysis, the function of these nerves and muscles likewise relies on the interactions of specific molecules and ions. Even the three-dimensional structure of certain molecules is essential to their function.
Your study of anatomy and physiology will make more sense if you continually relate the form of the structures you are studying to their function. In fact, it can be somewhat frustrating to attempt to study anatomy without an understanding of the physiology that a body structure supports. Imagine, for example, trying to appreciate the unique arrangement of the bones of the human hand if you had no conception of the function of the hand. Fortunately, your understanding of how the human hand manipulates tools—from pens to cell phones—helps you appreciate the unique alignment of the thumb in opposition to the four fingers, making your hand a structure that allows you to pinch and grasp objects and type text messages.
Human anatomy is the scientific study of the body’s structures. In the past, anatomy has primarily been studied via observing injuries, and later by the dissection of anatomical structures of cadavers, but in the past century, computer-assisted imaging techniques have allowed clinicians to look inside the living body. Human physiology is the scientific study of the chemistry and physics of the structures of the body. Physiology explains how the structures of the body work together to maintain life. It is difficult to study structure (anatomy) without knowledge of function (physiology). The two disciplines are typically studied together because form and function are closely related in all living things.
Which of the following specialties might focus on studying all of the structures of the ankle and foot?
A scientist wants to study how the body uses foods and fluids during a marathon run. This scientist is most likely a(n) ________.
Critical Thinking Questions
Name at least three reasons to study anatomy and physiology.
An understanding of anatomy and physiology is essential for any career in the health professions. It can also help you make choices that promote your health, respond appropriately to signs of illness, make sense of health-related news, and help you in your roles as a parent, spouse, partner, friend, colleague, and caregiver.
For whom would an appreciation of the structural characteristics of the human heart come more easily: an alien who lands on Earth, abducts a human, and dissects his heart, or an anatomy and physiology student performing a dissection of the heart on her very first day of class? Why?
A student would more readily appreciate the structures revealed in the dissection. Even though the student has not yet studied the workings of the heart and blood vessels in her class, she has experienced her heart beating every moment of her life, has probably felt her pulse, and likely has at least a basic understanding of the role of the heart in pumping blood throughout her body. This understanding of the heart’s function (physiology) would support her study of the heart’s form (anatomy).