The Human Body

Bone

Bone (anatomy), is a hard connective tissue, the major component of almost all skeletal systems in adult vertebrate animals. Bone appears to be nonliving—in fact, the word skeleton is derived from a Greek word meaning dried up. However, bone actually is a dynamic structure composed of both living tissues, such as bone cells, fat cells, and blood vessels, and nonliving materials, including water and minerals.

Bones are multipurpose structures that play diverse, vital roles in vertebrates. They provide a framework for the body, supporting it and giving it shape. They also provide a surface for the attachment of muscles and act as levers, permitting many complex movements. Many bones protect softer internal organs; for example, skull bones protect the brain, and rib bones form a cage around the lungs and heart. In addition to these structural and mechanical functions, bones also participate in the body’s physiology. They store calcium, a mineral essential for the activity of nerve and muscle cells. The soft core of bone, the bone marrow, is the site of formation of red blood cells, certain white blood cells, and blood platelets (see Blood).

There are two main types of bone. Compact bone, which makes up most of the bone of arms and legs, is very dense and hard on the outside. The structural units of compact bone are osteons, elongated cylinders that act as weight-bearing pillars, able to withstand any mechanical stress placed on the bone. The center of each osteon contains a hollow canal that acts as a central passageway for blood vessels and nerves.

Surrounding both compact and spongy bone is a thin membrane, the periosteum. The outer layer of this membrane contains nerves and blood vessels that branch and travel into the bone. The inner layer of the periosteum consists mainly of osteoblasts.

The point where two or more bones come together is called a joint, or articulation. Different kinds of joints enable different ranges of motion. Some joints barely move, such as those between the interlocking bones of the skull. Other bones, held together by tough connective tissues called ligaments, form joints such as the hinge joint in the elbow, which permits movement in only one direction. The pivot joint between the first and second vertebrae allows the head to turn from side to side.

Intimately associated with bone is another type of connective tissue called cartilage. Cartilage is softer, more elastic, and more compressible than bone. It is found in body parts that require both stiffness and flexibility, such as the ends of bones, the tip of the nose, and the outer part of the ear.

See BONE DISEASE