Learning anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, pathology and other subjects in massage therapy school can be challenging for many students. It isn’t that the information is all that difficult. The problem is that there is a TON of information to learn. With 206 bones, around 300 pairs of skeletal muscles, and countless other tissues, organ processes, movements, pathologies, and massage techniques, there is an enormous body of knowledge that a massage therapy student needs to learn. So anything that can help a massage therapy student quickly learn and remember is a big help.
This is where mnemonics come in. Simply put, mnemonics are memory tools. They have been used for thousands of years and come in different forms. Check out this post to learn more about types of mnemonics.
I’ve listed a collection of anatomy mnemonics below that any massage therapy student will find useful when preparing for their massage school exams or for the MBLEx. Feel free to develop your own and share it with other students in the comments below. Remember, when creating your own mnemonics, the more ridiculous and memorable, the better. Be sure to try some of our free practice quizzes.
Memorization tricks to remember nerves
The cranial nerves consist of 12 pairs of nerves that emerge directly from the brain and brainstem. Physicians often assess cranial nerves as part of a neurological assessment in response to suspected brain injury. One anatomy mnemonic to help remember the cranial nerves is: “Oh Oh Oh, To Touch And Feel Very Good Velvet, AH”.
- (I) Olfactory (Sensory)
- (II) Optic (Sensory)
- (III) Oculomotor (Motor)
- (IV) Trochlear (Motor)
- (V) Trigeminal (Both)
- (VI) Abducens (Motor)
- (VII) Facial (Both)
- (VIII) Vestibulocochlear (Sensory)
- (IX) Glossopharyngeal (Both)
- (X) Vagus (Both)
- (XI) Accessory (Motor)
- (XII) Hypoglossal (Motor)
There are various versions of this mnemonic. Here is another one that indicates whether the cranial nerve is sensory, motor, or both: “Some say marry money, but my brothersays big brains matter more”. This is also indicated on the list above.
Another part of the nervous system that is often required learning in anatomy classes, and can be difficult to remember is the brachial plexus. As the nerves leave the C5 through T1 levels of the spinal cord, they merge and divide several times to form the peripheral nerves of the upper extremities. There are 5 Roots, 3 Trunks, 6 Divisions, 3 Cords and 5 Branches (RTDCB). One mnemonics to help remember this is, “Ready To Drink Cold Beverages.”
Mnemonics to remember bones
The hands and feet can be difficult for a massage therapy student to memorize. There are 27 bones in each hand and wrist, plus numerous intrinsic muscles and funky joint movements to remember. There is a useful memorization tricks to help recall the 8 carpal bones of the wrist. Starting with the proximal row on the thumb side: “She Likes To Play, Try To Catch Her”.
An anatomy mnemonic to recall the tarsal bones from a proximal to distal, and medial to lateral order, “TigerCubs Need MILC”.
- Medial cuneiform
- Intermediate cuneiform
- Lateral cuneiform
The skull contains the brain, and is made up of six cranial bones. Use this mnemonic to remember the first letter of each bone: “PEST OF6”. The “6” is just to help you recall that there are 6 bones.
Another anatomy mnemonic that will help with recall of facial bones is, “Virgil can not make my pet zebra laugh.”
It is not likely that these will be on the MBLEx, but a massage therapy student will probably see some of these on a quiz or test at some point in their massage educational program.
Mnemonics to remember muscles
The erector spinae muscles are postural muscles that helps to maintain an erect spine when vertical. A memorization trick to help recall these muscles from lateral to medial to lateral is: “ILike Standing”.
A massage therapy student will almost certainly see questions about the rotator cuff muscles in school and on the MBLEx. The well-known anatomy mnemonic “SITS”, is an acronym for the rotator cuff muscles. It indicates the insertion order from superior to inferior on the greater tubercle of the humerus, for the first 3 muscles. The subscapularis inserts on the lesser tubercle.
- Teres minor
The mnemonic, “Piece Goods Often Go On Quilts” can help you recall the 6 lateral rotator muscles of the hip, in their insertion order from superior to inferior.
- Gemellus superior
- Obturator internus
- Gemellus inferior
- Obturator externus
- Quadratus femoris
The area of tendon insertion on the proximal, anteromedial tibia is known as the Pes anserinus or “goose foot”. A mnemonic to recall the muscle that insert here is, “Say Grace before Tea” in order from anterior to posterior.
Use the following mnemonic to recall the three muscles involved in elbow flexion: “3B’s bend the elbow”.
The 3 palmar interossei muscles of the hand adduct the fingers, and the 4 dorsal interossei muscles abduct the fingers. Use the acronyms PAD& DABto help recall which muscle group does what. This is not likely to be on the MBLEx, but may be covered on tests in some massage schools.
- Palmar interossei – Adduct
- Dorsal interossei – Abduct
Mnemonics to recall other structures, positions and processes
An anatomy mnemonic to remember the heart valves in the order of blood flow is: “Try Pulling My Aorta”. Kind of silly, but it’s memorable. The mnemonic, “Try before you Buy” refers to the blood flowing through the tricuspid valve on the right side of the heart, and a bicuspid (aortic) valve on the left side of the heart.
- Tricuspid valve
- Pulmonary valve
- Mitral valve
- Aortic valve
The layers of the epidermis can be recalled from superficial to deep, using the mnemonic: “Come Let’s Get Sun Burned”.
- Stratum Corneum
- Stratum Lucidum
- Stratum Granulosum
- Stratum Spinosum
- Stratum Basale
The first letter of the structures at the area of caution known as the femoral triangle spell “VAN”. These structures from medial to lateral are:
- Femoral Vein
- Femoral Artery
- Femoral Nerve
The first letters of the three structures that form the border of the femoral triangle spell the word “SAIL”. The femoral triangle itself is shaped like a sail.
- Adductor longus
- Inguinal Ligament
You can remember the order of sections of the digestive tract by using the anatomy mnemonic, “Dow Jones Industrial Climbing Average Closing Stock Report”.
- Sigmoid colon
The tarsal tunnel is a canal on the medial aspect of the ankle, just distal to the medial malleolus. The “roof” of the tunnel is the flexor retinaculum. Contents of the tarsal tunnel from anterior to posterior can be remembered by using the mnemonic, “Tom,Dick, And Very Nervous Harry”
- Tibialis posterior
- Flexor digitorum longus
- Artery (posterior tibial artery)
- Vein (posterior tibial vein)
- Nerve (tibial)
- Flexor hallucis longus
Mnemonics for first aid and client safety
Remember the steps of first aid to treat a traumatic injury such as an ankle sprain by using the mnemonic, “RICE“. Some add a “P” to it to form the mnemonic “PRICE“.
As massage therapists, visual assessment is an ongoing process. Every practitioner should be aware of the how to identify abnormal skin lesions that may require a referral to the client’s primary care physician or dermatologist. You can remember the warning signs by the mnemonic “ABCDE” of melanoma.
When someone passes out for an unknown reason, or when CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) is required, it can be a stressful experience for everyone. The mnemonic “ABC” can help you remember what to do, in order.
- Circulation/Compressions/Call for help
This list of memorization tricks can help you to remember your anatomy for your next test, whether in massage school or if you’re preparing for the MBLEx. Memory tools like this are a great way to recall things that we don’t necessarily thinks about every day.