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What is the Midclavicular Line?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The midclavicular line is a fictional line used as an anatomical reference point on the human body. It is a vertical line running from a spot in the middle of the clavicle to the point where it meets the hip bone. A number of anatomical features of interest are located along the midclavicular line and people learn to locate it, along with other reference points, during medical school.

The middle of the clavicle can sometimes be a difficult point to find, and studies conducted by anatomy researchers have shown that there is actually a great deal of variance in placing the midclavicular line. Much of the clavicle is hidden, except in very thin patients, where the bone stands out markedly over the chest, and people may not remember exactly how far this bone extends, making it difficult to find the midpoint. Some people orient the midclavicular line with the nipple, but in fact this line does not intersect with the nipple when it is drawn properly.

One point of interest along the midclavicular line is the heart. When listening for a heartbeat, this line can be used as a reference to find a location for listening. The liver is also located along this line, as is the gallbladder. By drawing an imaginary line down the body, people can find these organs more easily for palpation and ultrasound examination. In people suspected of having conditions like liver enlargement, being able to pinpoint the spot where the organ is supposed to be can be helpful.

This is one among many lines used as reference points on the torso. Other vertical lines include the midsternal line, for example. Horizontal lines are also used to divide the torso into segments running in the other direction. When writing up findings about a patient, doctors may use these lines as reference points in the description so any physician reading can visualize the location of the findings under discussion. This is particularly useful for people like pathologists, who do not see the patient in person, but may want information about the precise location where a sample was collected.

Points of orientation are also used in anatomy so that descriptions in textbooks and other materials are standardized. Instead of using vague and relative references, people can be extremely precise and concise in descriptions of features on the human body. People in medical school are expected to learn the terminology associated with anatomical positioning so they can communicate clearly and accurately with colleagues in professional practice.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon992031 — On Aug 07, 2015

I am a medical student. As posted, heart pain can present in a number of different locations. Your heart is actually found both behind your sternum as well as to the left. The center of mass of the heart is slightly to the left of the sternum in the majority of people, excluding rare conditions like dextrocardia.

When physicians listen to the heart, they listen at and between four primary locations where the sound of blood running from the valves radiates. It allows us to determine the health of the various valves of the heart. Chest pain has many causes, some which can be attributed to cardiac conditions and some which cannot.

A common cause of chest pain unrelated to the heart is called GERD, or more commonly, acid reflux. If you find yourself waking up with pain and a lemon or sour taste in your mouth, this could be the cause of your pain. However, you cannot exclude heart conditions such as stable angina without medical testing to see how your body responds to exercise.

If you notice the pain more when exercising, this could be a sign that the vessels that feed oxygenated blood to your heart are partially blocked by plaque. Your heart is a muscle, and it feels sore just like any other muscle does when it does not get the right amount of oxygen.

Try to make note of when this pain is worse and whether it radiates to any particular location. These can be clues to the origin of your pain that will help your doctor determine the cause.

As mentioned by the previous poster, heart pain can radiate to the jaw or arm, but some people will also present with less obvious symptoms such as stomach pain and nausea. As suggested, you should see a physician regarding the pain as she can rule out any dangerous causes and put your mind at ease if you are not actually experiencing a heart related problem.

By MrMoody — On Aug 02, 2011

@allenJo - I believe that it’s in the center, but only slightly towards the left. It’s not far off to the left by any means. It’s behind your lungs and your sternum.

If you have chest pains of any kind, I would get it checked by a doctor and not try to rule out what it could be, simply because of the location of the pain.

Heart pain can manifest itself in a variety of locations. Real heart conditions will usually result in pain that radiates up and down your arm, and your heart certainly isn’t located there.

By allenJo — On Aug 01, 2011

Where exactly is the heart located in the body? For years I thought it was in the center of the chest area, and then somebody corrected me and said that it was actually left of center in your chest.

So when I had chest pains in the middle of my chest this person reassured me that it probably wasn’t the heart because the heart wasn’t in the middle, it was off to the left somewhere.

Later, someone told me that no, it’s actually located in the center beneath the sternum. I do notice that when doctors check for a heart beat they don’t zero in on one location only.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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