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Medial vs. Lateral: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on January 23, 2024
Medial refers to being closer to the midline of the body, while lateral means being further from the midline.

Key Differences

Medial refers to a position or structure being closer to the median plane or midline of the body or a structure, which is an imaginary line that divides the body into equal left and right halves. Lateral, in contrast, indicates a position farther from this midline. For instance, the nose is medial to the ears, while the ears are lateral to the nose.
In anatomical terms, medial is used to describe structures that are situated towards the center of the body, like the medial aspect of the thigh which is closer to the opposite thigh. Lateral is used for structures that lie towards the outer sides of the body, such as the lateral aspect of the arm which is away from the body's central axis.
When considering movement, medial can also imply moving towards the central axis, as in medial rotation of a limb towards the body's center. Lateral, on the other hand, often involves moving away from the center, like in lateral flexion of the spine away from the midline.
Medial is also used in other fields to denote centrality or closeness to a central point, while lateral is used to indicate positions or movements away from such a central point. For example, in botany, a medial leaf vein runs closer to the main stem, whereas lateral branches extend outward from the main stem.
In general, the terms medial and lateral provide a relative spatial understanding, especially in anatomy, helping in the precise location and description of body parts and their movements. Medial indicates closeness to the body's centerline, whereas lateral signifies being further away.

Comparison Chart

Relation to Midline

Closer to the body's midline
Farther from the body's midline

Movement Direction

Moving towards the midline
Moving away from the midline

Anatomical Position

Positioned towards the center of the body
Positioned towards the outer sides of the body

In Limbs

Inner side of the limbs
Outer side of the limbs

Example in Botany

Medial leaf veins closer to the main stem
Lateral branches extending outward from the main stem

Medial and Lateral Definitions


In a broader sense, medial indicates something centrally located within a group or arrangement.
The medial position in the lineup offered the best view.


Lateral refers to being farther from the midline of the body or a structure.
The ears are lateral to the nose.


Medial means situated nearer to the midline of the body or a structure.
The heart is medial to the lungs.


Lateral means positioned at, pertaining to, or moving toward the side.
The lateral branches of the tree extended outwards.


Medial also pertains to being located in the middle of a structure.
The medial section of a butterfly's wing has intricate patterns.


Lateral describes a movement away from the midline.
Lateral stretching exercises help improve flexibility.


Medial can describe a movement towards the midline.
Medial rotation of the arm brings it closer to the body.


Lateral also applies to the outer side of a limb or organ.
The lateral surface of the forearm faces outward.


Medial refers to being closer to the center or main point of reference.
In a leaf, the medial vein runs closer to the stem.


In a broader context, lateral signifies a position or movement away from a central point.
The lateral thinking approach encourages creativity.


Relating to, situated in, or extending toward the middle; median.


Of, relating to, or situated at or on the side.


(Linguistics) Being a sound, syllable, or letter occurring between the initial and final positions in a word or morpheme.


Of or constituting a change within an organization or hierarchy to a position at a similar level, as in salary or responsibility, to the one being left
Made a lateral move within the company.


Can medial and lateral apply to movements?

Yes, they describe movements towards (medial) or away from (lateral) the midline.

What's an example of a medial body part?

The nose is medial to the ears.

What does medial mean in anatomy?

Medial refers to being closer to the body's midline or central axis.

Can a limb have both medial and lateral aspects?

Yes, limbs have both medial (inner) and lateral (outer) sides.

Are medial and lateral terms used outside anatomy?

Yes, they're used in various fields to describe relative positions.

How are medial and lateral used in sports?

They describe body positioning and movement directions.

How is lateral used in describing body parts?

Lateral describes parts that are further from the body's midline.

What does lateral mean in botany?

In botany, lateral refers to parts extending outwards from the main stem.

Is the big toe medial or lateral?

The big toe is medial on the foot.

Can objects have medial and lateral aspects?

Yes, in contexts where relative positioning is relevant.

How do medial and lateral help in medical descriptions?

They provide precise location information about body structures.

What is lateral rotation?

Lateral rotation is the movement of a limb away from the body's midline.

Can medial and lateral be used in mechanics?

Yes, to describe parts' positions relative to a central axis.

Are medial and lateral used in neuroscience?

Yes, to describe brain structures' positions relative to the midline.

Is the thumb medial or lateral?

The thumb is lateral in relation to the other fingers.

What does lateral thinking mean?

It refers to thinking creatively, away from conventional patterns.

Do medial and lateral have the same meaning in all contexts?

Their basic concept remains the same, but usage varies across contexts.

Can something be both medial and lateral?

Not in the same context, as they are opposites.

How do medial and lateral relate to symmetry?

They help describe symmetrical positions relative to a central point.

Is the term lateral used in aviation?

Yes, for describing movements or positions relative to an aircraft's longitudinal axis.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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