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Difference Between Proximal And Distal

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There is a lot of confusion about the difference between proximal and distal. Many people use these words interchangeably in the medical world, but they have very different meanings.

The main difference between proximal and distal is that proximal refers to something closer to the center of the body. In contrast, distal refers to something further away from the body's center. 

This blog post will further explain the difference between these two terms and provide examples to help you understand them better.

What Is Proximal?

Proximal simply means "closer." Something that is proximal to you is physically closer to you than something that is distal. The word proximal is derived from the Latin word Proximus, which means "next" or "nearest." 

Proximal refers to the nearest or most approachable part of an object. It can also refer to the point at which two things are closest.

In anatomy, the proximal end is the end that is attached to the rest of the skeleton. At the same time, the distal end is the opposite end. In medicine, proximal structures are closest to the center of the body, such as the heart.

For example, in the arm, the proximal end of the radius bone is attached to the elbow joint, while the distal end attaches to the wrist.

The term proximal can also be used in psychology to describe how close two people are to their relationship or emotional state. For example, a person may say they feel more proximal to their friends than their family.

What Is Distal?

Distal refers to the farthest or most remote body part from the point of origin. In anatomy, distal refers to body parts located further away from the center of the body or farther away from the point of attachment. 

For example, your fingers are distal to your wrist, and your toes are distal to your ankle. The opposite of distal is proximal, which refers to parts of the body that are closer to the center of the body or point of attachment.

You can remember that distal means "away" by thinking of the word "distance." Just as distance refers to how far away something is, distal refers to how far away a body part is from its point of origin.

Key Differences Between Proximal And Distal

Use In Anatomy

In anatomy, the proximal end of a bone is the end closest to the body trunk, while the distal end is further away. The proximal joints in the fingers are closest to the palm, while the distal joints are at the tips of the fingers. 

When considering muscles, the proximal muscles are those closest to the body's trunk, while the distal muscles are those farthest away.

And finally, when blood vessels or nerves branch out from the main trunk, the first branch off is considered proximal, and each subsequent branch is considered more distal. So now, when you hear your doctor say "the proximal joint in your finger," you'll know exactly what she's referring to!


The elbow is a proximal joint because it is closer to the shoulder. The wrist is a distal joint because it is further away from the shoulder. The knee is a proximal joint because it is closer to the hip. The ankle is a distal joint because it is further away from the hip.

The metacarpophalangeal joints (MCP) are proximal joints located between the metacarpals and phalanges (the bones of the fingers). The interphalangeal joints (IP) are distal joints because they are located between the phalanges (the bones of the fingers).

Also, proximal and distal can describe relationships between organs within the same system. For example, the liver is proximal to the stomach, while the small intestine is distal to the stomach. This terminology can be applied to any body part or organ, making it a useful way to describe anatomical relationships.

Comparison Chart: Proximal Vs Distal

DefinitionCloser to the centerFurther away from the center
ArmShoulder jointWrist joint
LegKnee jointAnkle joint
Word OriginLatinEnglish


Why do these terms are used often by medical professionals?

In the medical field, it is essential to be precise when describing locations on the human body. To this end, medical professionals often use the terms "proximal" and "distal."

Proximal refers to a structure closer to the body's center, while distal refers to a structure further away from the center. For example, the wrist is distal to the elbow, and the shoulder is proximal to the neck. By using these terms, medical professionals can ensure that they are providing clear and accurate instructions.

How do you remember distal and proximal?

One way to remember the difference between distal and proximal is to think of the word "proximity." Proximal muscles are the ones that are closest to the center of your body, while distal muscles are located further away.

Another way to keep them straight is to think of the word "distance." Distal muscles, such as your fingers and toes, are found in your extremities. So if you remember that proximal = proximity and distal = distance, you should be able to keep these terms straight in your mind.

Is the mouth proximal to the nose?

The answer to this question is YES! The mouth is located very close to the nose. Just a thin layer of tissue separates them. This proximity is important because it allows air to flow between the two organs and helps to equalize pressure.

Is the knee proximal to the foot?

The knee is proximal to the foot. This means that the knee is closer to the body than the foot. The proximal joint of the leg is the knee joint. The knee joint is where the femur, or thigh bone, meets the tibia, or shin bone. The patella, or kneecap, sits in front of the knee joint. The bones of the knee are held together by strong ligaments. These ligaments provide stability to the knee joint.


In conclusion, the main difference between proximal and distal is that proximal refers to something closer to the center or point of origin. In contrast, distal refers to something that is further away.


Feel free to comment and discuss about the article in the comment space below if you have any information or remarks to add. If you think we made a mistake, you can also report it there.

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About the Author: Nicolas Seignette

Nicolas Seignette, who holds a scientific baccalaureate, began his studies in mathematics and computer science applied to human and social sciences (MIASHS). He then continued his university studies with a DEUST WMI (Webmaster and Internet professions) at the University of Limoges before finishing his course with a professional license specialized in the IT professions. On 10Differences, he is in charge of the research and the writing of the articles concerning technology, sciences and mathematics.
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