Major Body Cavities: Medical Terminology

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  • 0:05 Cavities
  • 0:30 Dorsal Cavity
  • 1:30 Ventral Cavity
  • 3:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Without its organs, your body is nothing but a collection of empty spaces called cavities. There are two major cavity regions with their own unique subdivisions, and they'll be defined here.


What's a fireplace that's not filled with logs, or a fridge that's not filled with food, but a cavity? It's just empty space waiting to be filled with something.

If you could extract the organs of your body, you'd find that it, too, has many cavities that were once filled with one organ or another. A cavity, in our lesson's context, is a hollow space within the body. How about we go over the major ones?

The Dorsal Cavity

The dorsal cavity is one of the two largest body cavities, located at the posterior aspect of the body. By posterior, I mean that it runs along the back of the body.

It's called dorsal, because dorsal is a term for the back of an animal, including a human. Sort of like dorsal fins are found along a fish's or dolphin's back.

This dorsal body cavity is, itself, composed of two different cavities. One is known as the cranial cavity, and it's a cavity located within the skull. Cranial comes from cranium, which refers to the bones encasing the brain. It's a brain case!

So if, like the ancient Egyptians, you could extract the brain through the nose, you'd be left with nothing but an empty space inside the cranium, the cranial cavity. The other constituent of the dorsal cavity is the spinal (vertebral) cavity, which is the vertebral canal, the space located within the spinal (vertebral) column that houses the spinal cord.

The Ventral Cavity

The other major body cavity is called the ventral cavity, and it's the cavity located along the anterior aspect of the body. Ventral is a word that refers to the abdomen or belly of the animal, which is obviously, in humans, at the front (anterior) part of the body. It's the opposite of dorsal. Like the dorsal cavity, the ventral cavity can be broken apart into smaller cavities.

The thoracic cavity is the chest cavity. The term thoracic comes from thorax, which is just another word for chest. (Remember, thorax sounds like Lorax, the character who speaks for the trees.) Your speaking voice is made possible, in part, thanks to the lungs, located in the thorax. The chest also contains the heart, of course.

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