When Anatomy meets Technology – Learning and Educating with Anatomy Apps

With over 108 million iPhone sales since 2007 and rising, together with 60 million iPod touch sales and 25 million iPads, there is a now a huge global userbase for applications (Apps) on these devices with over 425,000 Apps in total available in the App store.  Android-capable mobile phones are also growing in popularity, and these have their own applications for use on these devices.

An App store search using ‘anatomy’ reveals 372 iPhone and iPod touch compatible anatomy Apps, together with 170 dedicated iPad anatomy Apps. Some of these show images of anatomy, some are ‘flash cards’ and some have integrated quizzes.

Anatomy apps can be useful for both learning anatomy and for using as an educational tool in  a patient consultation. Given the portability of the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, it is easy to use these Apps in the clinic, at the training ground, or whilst on tour with teams, and most of the Apps do not require internet access to function once they have been downloaded.

Some of the better Apps have the ability to add notes and annotations to diagrams, and to view structures from multiple angles with magnification. Whilst the detail is sometimes limited, there is often more than enough to be able to use an App to help to explain the relevant structures to patients in order to improve their understanding of their injuries, and indeed to learn some of the anatomy that a Sports Physician might need. However, the extensive detail is often lacking, so there is room for improvement.

Here are my ‘Top 5’ Anatomy Apps currently available in the App store :

1) Pocket Body – The Interactive Human Body (iPad / iPod Touch / iPhone) (App store link here)

This App by eMedia Interactive LTD has a 9-layer graphic of the human body, with 4 views (anterior, left lateral, posterior and right lateral), and the images magnify up nicely without significant pixellation. Muscles, bones, tendons, vessels and nerves are all shown. Pins are attached to most of the muscles, and a quick press reveals the origin, insertion, key relations, functions, and innervation and vascular supply. In addition, some clinical notes are shown although these are somewhat limited in scope and not always accurate. It is possible to add your own notes, and to edit these. Many of the pins attached to nerves are red, and indicate the structures but give no additional detail although you can add your own notes and indeed can add your own pins on the model.

There are 3 different quizzes available – a ‘locate pins’ quiz, an MCQ, and a flash card type quiz and these can be set to examine any particular region. In addition, there is the ability to take a screenshot of an image and to share the image by email, post on your Facebook page or link to Twitter, or save to your device. This is a great App for learning the basics of musculoskeletal anatomy, and for showing relevant structures to patients.

2) Muscle System Pro II (Nova Series) and Skeletal System Pro II (Nova Series) (iPad / iPod Touch / iPhone) (App store links here – muscle & skeletal)

These are 2 separate Apps by 3D4 Medical, and show some really quite beautiful images, with the ability to view from many different angles. The image pins link to information boxes. The information on muscles shows origin, insertion, action, innervation and vascular supply. There is also the ability to add your own notes. Individual structures can be shown such as different bones, with excellent quality images when fully magnified, and with much anatomical detail. There are quizzes, although these are somewhat easy for anyone except novices. The images are probably the best available on these devices and are particularly impressive on the iPad, and these can be shared by email or social networking applications.

3) Muscle Trigger Points (iPod Touch / iPhone / iPad) (App store link here)

This App by Real Bodywork acts as a reference for common muscle trigger points. There is information on over 70 muscles and 100 different trigger point patterns, with information on the action of the relevant muscles and on the referral pain patterns. There is a 3D model which rotates in 2 animations to anterior and posterior images showing the different muscles, and muscles can be viewed individually from a list, or by choosing ‘zones.’ Real Bodywork provide a number of other anatomy Apps in addition to the Muscle Trigger Point App, including a ‘Learn Muscles’ App, a muscle and bone anatomy 3D for iPad, and skeletal anatomy 3D quiz and reference.

4) Instant Anatomy Lectures, Flash Cards, A/V Lectures and MCQ Apps (iPad / iPod Touch / iPhone / Android) (App store link here)

Robert Whitaker has been offering a number of excellent resources from his Instant Anatomy series for a number of years now. These originally started with books, going on to CD ROMs, and now a series of Apps. There are podcasts of anatomy lectures, video podcasts, and flash card Apps. This series of Apps offers some quite wonderful learning material, especially for the novice, and a great way to learn anatomy. The diagrams are easy to understand, although are more suited to learning than to explaining structures and pathology to patients. Some of the Apps are free on the App store, offered as ‘tasters’ with limited information, so you can try them out for yourself. Highly recommended for medical students and those re-engaging with anatomy after a while.

5) Aspects of Anatomy (iPad / iPod Touch / iPhone) (App store link here)

This App was developed by my one of my former anatomy teachers at University College, London, Professor Peter Abrahams, who is now Professor of Anatomy at Warwick University. He is also one author of the excellent ‘Essentials of Clinical Anatomy’ text. It consists of a series of 38 short (3-8 minute) lectures on a number of plastinated specimens, together with some related clinical information on related topics such as Colles fracture. In addition, imaging modalities are included, together with ‘spot’ quizzes (don’t I remember those during my Anatomy finals!) and clinically relevant MCQs. This is a wonderful resource for medical students and those revisiting anatomy.

CJSM would be interested to hear about your favourite Anatomy Apps, and how you use them in your clinical practice.

About Chris Hughes
Associate Editor, Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine

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