Last night I got a question about how to memorize origins and insertions for anatomy. My comment quickly turned into a book, so I figured I’d make it a post and call it a day. Skip to the double astericks** if anatomy bores you.
You’re right, mnemonics don’t really work for muscle attachments -too many of them. It demands a different strategy – here’s what I believe in:
1. First, make a table. I use 5 columns across the top of the page for “muscle name” “origin” “insertion” “action” and “innervation”. If you’re feeling fancy, you can color-code, but it’s not necessary. Once everything you need to know is in one place for easy reference, memorizing it starts to seem possible – and you won’t be wasting time flipping pages around.
2. Prioritize. First, learn just the bone of attachment for each muscle. Then the process/part of the bone. Then any absurdly specific details your professor wants you to know about that process. It’s okay if you don’t finish the 3rd pass – I sure didn’t – but you’d be surprised by how much further you’ll be ahead of everyone if you start each unit by memorizing what bones the muscles attach to.
What you want to avoid is trying to memorize the long and detailed version for each muscle before moving onto the next. It’s all too easy for this to take so long that you run out of time.* If you start with a quick pass of bones, then add detail, you’ll at least know enough about each muscle to guarantee an intelligent guess.
3. Try memorizing by action. For example, most of the medial rotators of the arm attach to the intertubercular groove. (Not the “floor of the” or “the lateral lip of the” or, god forbid, the “lateral 3/4 of the inner side of the”- at least not yet. Those are low-yield details that you can hammer into your brain with flashcards the day before a test if you have time). So, that’s great – but subscapularis is the exception. How to remember subscapularis? Well, I remember that the lateral rotators attach to the greater tubercle (because I made a list of where the lateral rotators attached)- so since the subscap is a medial rotator, by elimination I know it must attach to the lesser tubercle.
4. Try memorizing by common insertion points. Making a list of which muscles attach at a given location (rather than the reverse) and doing some rudimentary memorization of that list can speed things up quite a bit. (Only worth doing with common insertion points – greater trochanter, ASIS, etc.) For example – the coronoid process of the ulna. What attaches there? The brachialis and a bunch of forearm muscles. What do they have in common? They’re all flexors – FDP, FDS, and FDP longus flex digits, while Pronator Teres and brachialis flex the elbow.
Cool. Now I have two ways of potentially remembering this information during the test. If I’ve forgotten Pronator Teres’ attachments, but I remember it’s a flexor – then I might remember that most flexors attach to the coronoid process. If I’ve remembered its attachments but forgotten its secondary action, then I can just remember “hey, everything attached to the coronoid process is a flexor. It must flex.”
“Too long, didn’t read” version: Get all the info down in one place and start by memorizing everything according to general attachments only. Then group the info in various ways by writing simple lists, thereby increasing the number of ways you can remember it on the test.
Anyone else have any anatomy advice?