Bones Of The Female Body
Bones And Joints Explained

Health Topics

female skeleton

Bones In Women


Fun Bone Facts
How Many Types Of Bones Are There?
What Do Bones Do?
What Are Bones Made Of?
Bones Of The Body
What Is A Fracture?
Diseases And Conditions Of Bones

Fun Bone Facts

A skeleton is the framework of bones that supports the human body. It provides an anchor for the muscles and supports the skin and other organs. It also protects vital organs like the heart and liver from being knocked about. The skeleton is very light but very tough. The word skeleton comes from the Greek word for dry. Bones are not however dead - they are living tissue.
The human body has 206 bones - men and women have the same number of bones. As babies we are born with 300 bones, but as we age, some of those bones fuse together.
Women tend to have lighter skeleton frames than men. Bones make up about 14 percent of our body weight. See, the female body.
Women have a wider pelvis (hips) than men because the opening has to be wide enough to let a baby pass through when it's born.
The thigh bone (femur) is the longest bone in the body.
There are exactly 26 bones in the hand and 26 in the foot.

Did You Know?

Laughing or coughing puts more pressure on the spine than standing or walking (which is why someone can put their back out by laughing or coughing).

How Many Types Of Bones Are There?

There are 206 bones in the body which make up the skeleton. The skeleton is divided into 2 main parts:

1. Axial skeleton: Consists of the skull, ribs, vertebral column and sternum.
2. Appendicular skeleton: Everything else - shoulder girdle, limbs and pelvic girdle.

There are 5 different types of bones in the skeleton. The different types are categorized according to their shape:

Long Bones: These are the body's levers, they allow movement, particularly in the limbs e.g. the femur (thigh bone), tibia and fibula (lower leg bones), clavicle (collar bone), humerus (upper arm bone), the radius and the ulna (lower arm), metacarpals (hand bones), metatarsals (foot bones) and phalanges (finger and toe bones).

Short Bones: Strong and compact bones, usually grouped in parts of the body where little movement is required e.g. tarsals (ankle bones) and carpals (wrist bones).

Flat Bones: Protective bones with broad flat surfaces for muscle attachment e.g. occipital, parietal, frontal, nasal, vomer, lacrimal (all of these are in the skull), scapula (shoulder bone), innominate bones (pelvis), sternum (breastbone), ribs.

Irregular Bones: Bones that do not fit into the above categories and have different characteristics e.g. vertebrae, including the sacrum and coccyx (backbone), maxilla (upper jaw), mandible (lower jaw), ethmoid, palatine, sphenoid, zygomatic (cheek) and temporal (all bones ofthe face and head).

Sesamoid Bones: Bones within tendons. There are 2 main sesamoid bones in the human body, the patella (kneecap), and the hyoid (base ofthe tongue). The hyoid is sometimes classified as an irregular bone because it is attached by ligaments and not 'floating' in a tendon like the patella.


What Do Bones Do?


Support the body: all body tissues (apart from cartilage and bone) are soft so without the skeleton the body would be jelly-like and could not stand up. The bones and their arrangement give the body its shape.
Allow and enable movement.
Protect delicate body organs e.g. the cranium (skull) and the thoracic cage (ribs and sternum) covers the heart and lungs.
Forms blood cells (in the red bone marrow).
Form joints which are essential for the movement of the body.
Provide something for muscles to attach to - muscles are attached to bones and pull them into different positions, thus moving the body.
Provide a place for the body to store calcium salts and phosphorus.


What Are Bones Made Of?

Bones are living tissue made from special cells called osteoblasts and osteoclasts. The tissue varies considerably in density and compactness: the closer to the surface of the bone the more compact it is. Many bones have a central cavity containing marrow, a tissue which creates red blood cells for the blood and is also a site for the storage of fats. There are two main types of bone tissue:

• Compact: to the naked eye this looks like a solid structure but under a microscope it looks like honeycomb full of holes. Haversian canals are passageways containing blood vessels, lymph capillaries and nerves which run through the tissue. Compact bone is found on the outside of most bones and in the shaft of long bones.
• Cancellous (spongy bone): this type of bone looks like a sponge and it is found at the ends of long bones and in irregular, flat and sesamoid bones. Bone marrow only exists in cancellous bone.

All bones have both types of tissue. The amount of each depends on the type of bone.

What Are Haversian Canals?

Haversian canals run lengthways through compact bone and contain blood and lymph capillaries and nerves. The larger the canal the less dense and compact the bones.

Bones of the face
Click to enlarge


The Skull

Also called the cranium, the skull is the hard casing that protects your brain.
It looks like it is one bone, but it is actually made up of 22 separate bones that are cemented together along rigid joints called sutures.
The top of the skull is called the dome. It is made of 8 curved pieces of bone joined (fused) together. See also, head and face conditions.

Bones of the spine
Click to enlarge

The Backbone (also known as spine or vetebral column)

This bone extends from the base of the skull down to the hips.
It consists of 33 small bones called vertebrae (single, vertebra). Some of these join (fuse) as the body grows - so there are in fact only 26 individual bones in the spine.
The vertebra are the protective bones around the spinal cord - the body's central bundle of nerves. If the spinal cord is damaged, it can cause paralysis.
The backbone is not straight, it spirals in an S shape. See also, back problems.


Rib cage bones

Is it true that a man has one less rib than a woman?

No, men and women have the same number of ribs (it's just a myth that women have one less).

There are 24 ribs - or two sets of 12. Each pair of ribs is attached to the spine (vertebrae) in the back. There are 3 types of ribs:

True ribs: The first 7 pairs attached to the breast bone (sternum).
False ribs: The next 5 pairs which do not attach to the sternum.
Floating ribs: The last pair of ribs are 'floating', they do not attach to the sternum.
See also chest conditions and abdominal problems.

Pelvic Bone

Pelvic bones

The pelvis of women is wider and more shallow than men's.

See here for bones of the arms and legs.
See also reproductive system disorders.

What Are Postural Deformities?

The spine has two natural curves: an inward curve in the lower back (lumbar area: put your hand there and try it) and a slight outward curve in the upper back (the thoracic area). In certain cases, the spine's natural curves become exaggerated, causing unnatural curves, or postural deformities. There are three causes for these:

• Birth defect: those present at birth which may be hereditary.
• Environmental: sitting and standing incorrectly can cause long-term damage to the spine. Many people in sedentary work are affected by these causes.
• Traumatic: caused by accidents.

What do postural deformities look like?

Exaggerated outward curve of the cervical spine. The fictional Hunchback of Notre Dame is probably the most famous of all sufferers of kyphosis!

A sideway curve of the spine.
An exaggerated inward curve which forces the stomach forward.

What Is A Fracture?

A bone fracture is another name for a broken bone. Fractures can be caused by either injury or disease. There are 6 main types:

• Simple: (sometimes called closed) a bone has broken in one place and has not damaged the tissue around it. See pictures of bones.
• Compound: (sometimes called open) a fracture in which the broken bone pierces the skin and/or communicates with the surface of the skin through an open wound.
• Comminuted: a bone broken in several places.
• Greenstick: more common in soft and flexible bones, especially children's, this is an incomplete fracture of a long bone.
• Impacted: a bone which has been broken and then one end is driven into the other (like one car shunting into the back of another).
• Complicated: broken bone which damages tissue and/or organs around it.

Diseases And Conditions Of The Bones

Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints. Mono-articular arthritis is an inflammation of one joint and poly-arthritis is an inflammation of many. It can be acute or chronic. See pictures of arthritis.

Ankylosing spondylitis
A type of arthritis which causes fusion of the joints of the spine leading to severe deformity and immobility.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Painful disorder caused when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the palm of the hand, becomes squeezed or compressed at the wrist. Symptoms are discomfort and weakness in the hands and fingers and by sensations of tingling, burning or numbness.

Cervical Spondylitis
Is degenerative arthritis that attacks the joints of the neck. If severe, it can cause pressure on nerve roots leading to severe pain.

Gout is a type of arthritis that can occur in any part of the body but often affects the big toe; more common in men than women. Pain typically starts at night and is described as an extremely painful throbbing. The joint area appears red and warm and is often too painful to touch.

Osteoarthritis is also called wear and tear arthritis or degenerative joint disease. It is the most common form of arthritis. It occurs when the protective cartilage on the end of your bones breaks down over time. As a result bones are exposed and begin to grate against each other causing pain when you move. See pictures of osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (type of poly-arthritis)
Also known as rheumatism, rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease that typically affects the smaller joints in your hands and feet. It attacks the lining of the joints causing them to become tender and swollen. Eventually this inflammation damages the joint bones and surrounding muscles leading to crippling deformity.

Loss Of Limb
A prosthesis (artificial limb) is used to replace the missing body part.

Abnormal softening of bones caused by deficiencies of phosphorus, calcium or vitamin D. It is also known as osteomalacia.

Osteogenesis Imperfecta
A genetic disorder that causes bones to break easily. The connective tissues break down leading to brittle bones that fracture.

Osteoporosis is a disease in which the bones of the body become brittle making them easier to fracture (a fracture means the same thing as a break). See pictures of osteoporosis.

Paget's Disease
Where bones grow too big - especially in the spine, pelvis, skull and thigh bone (femur). It is caused by an increase in the osteoclastic and osteoblastic activity of the bone cells.

A rare condition that causes the skin to tighten and harden. Mostly it just effects the skin, but it can also harms structures beyond the skin — such as internal organs, blood vessels and the digestive tract.

Lupus (or full name - Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)) is an inflammatory disease of connective tissue with causes fever, weakness, fatigue, joint pains and skin lesions.

Slipped Disc (also called herniated disc and prolapsed disc)
Where one of the discs in the backbone ruptures or slips out of place. It can put pressure on the spinal nerves - particularly the sciatic nerve which runs down the pelvis, through the buttocks and down both legs to the feet.

Stress is any factor which affects mental or physical health. When stressed, muscle tension increases and this causes poor posture (for example hunched shoulders or a clenched jaw), stiff joints and problems with the discs in the back. See dangers of stress.

An inflammation of the synovial membrane that lines a synovial joint (for example the joints of the hips); results in pain and swelling. Usually only temporary.

An injury to the neck (the cervical vertebrae) resulting from rapid acceleration or deceleration (like in a car accident).

For a complete list see Bone And Joint Problems

What The Skeletal System Links To

Muscles Of The Body: Muscles always cross joints and thus rely on the framework of the skeleton for leverage and movement.
Circulatory System: Red blood cells are produced in the bone marrow of long bones.
Nervous System: Muscles require a nerve impulse to contract which produces movement in the skeleton.
Digestive System: Breaks down food and works with the circulatory system to transport nutrients to bone tissues.
Urinary System: A hormone produced by the kidneys helps to stimulate the production of bone marrow in long bones.

Other Useful Guides

Recommend Health Screenings For Women: Your personal DIY tests!
Effects of Depression: What it does to the female mind and body.
How Menopause Affects The Body: In-dept guide to menopause.
Endocrine System: Network of hormones and what they do to the body.
Hospital Departments Explained: How to find your way around a hospital.

Back To Homepage: Womens Health Advice

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