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The Skeletal System

The human skeletal system consists of approximately 206 bones which vary considerably in size and shape.

The skeleton has five important functions in the body:

  1. Support: The skeleton gives shape and rigidity to the body. Without the support of the skeleton we would be shapeless lumps.
  2. Protection: The bones protect the inner organs of the body (eg the skull, or cranium, protects the brain).
  3. Movement: The skeleton provides attachment for muscles thereby serving as levers in pulley systems where movements can be produced by muscles at the moveable joints in the body.
  4. Blood cell production: Blood cells are manufactured in the marrow within bones. Red blood cells transport oxygen in the circulatory system while white blood cells are responsible for the body's defence system to fight infection.
  5. Calcium storage: Bones are storehouses for minerals, calcium in particular. This is important for the strength of bones for if these minerals are depleted, it may lead to stress fractures or osteoporosis (brittle bones).


A joint (or articulation) is where two bones come together. A joint consists of ligaments, tendons and cartilage:

  • Ligaments are strong fibrous bands of connective tissue which attach bones to bones, forming a joint. Ligaments add to the stability of a joint by prohibiting undesirable movements of that joint.
  • Tendons are tough cords or bands of connective tissue which attach muscles to bones. They allow a muscle to act by applying force to a bone and to the joint around which two or more bones move.
  • Articular cartilage is a smooth lining of fibrous connective tissue that lines the ends of the bones in each joint. It provides a smooth surface for movement protecting the surfaces from wear and absorbs shock by bearing and distributing weight.
  • Menisci are another form of cartilage contained in some joints. They are small discs or pads that fit snugly between the two bones in, for example, the knee joint enhancing the stability of the joint and absorbing shock by compressing and expanding under pressure.