Skeleton facts

Last modified: September 11, 2019

There are lots of interesting skeleton facts. The skeleton of an adult human comprises more than 200 bones of different sizes. This accounts for around 18% of the bodyweight! The function of the skeleton is to provide a framework for the musculoskeletal system and protection for the body’s internal organs. The skeleton is connected with the body’s muscles as the muscles are attached to it. Minerals are also stored in the skeleton. For example, it contains our largest storage of calcium. The skeleton also contains bone marrow, whose main function is to produce blood cells.

The joints and the skeleton work together

Apart from muscles, the skeleton is held together by joints, which facilitate the body’s mobility. A joint can, in simple terms, be described as the place where two or more bones meet. The ends of every one of these parts of the skeleton is covered by cartilage. Cartilage is an important tissue as it enables two bones to slide against each other smoothly. Articular cartilage also distributes the load being put on the joint.

Osteoarthritis is a condition that affects the cartilage in the joints, causing it to gradually break down. This makes it more difficult to use the joint due to pain and stiffness. This condition can reduce the affected person’s quality of life to a great extent.

Read more about osteoarthritis.

Coping with pain in the skeleton

The skeleton doesn’t have any nerves, so the skeleton itself cannot actually cause pain. When someone breaks a bone in the skeleton, the pain comes from the bone membrane (periosteum) that covers the skeleton. Anyone who has suffered a hit to the shin knows what pain from the periosteum can feel like.

Osteoporosis is a condition that results in the skeleton breaking down more quickly than it can be repaired. This makes the skeleton thin and brittle. Osteoporosis doesn’t cause pain in itself and is not noticed by those affected by it. Osteoporosis is not considered to be a disease, but rather a risk factor in terms of making it easier to suffer a broken bone. It is the fractures which can occur with this condition that cause pain in the skeleton.

If you suspect that a joint condition is the underlying cause of the pain in your skeleton, it may be appropriate for you to visit a doctor or a physical therapist. They can set a diagnosis and suggest suitable treatment.

Infections in the skeleton

The skeleton can, just like the rest of the body, be affected by infections. An infection in the skeleton is known as osteitis. If the infection also affects the muscles, it is known as osteomyelitis. Both are treatable conditions, but they can entail consequences if the treatment is not initiated in time. Infections in the skeleton require a long period of treatment with antibiotics, oftentimes lasting several months. In many cases, surgery is also required to get rid of the infection.

Strengthening the skeleton

As the skeleton provides the body’s framework. Therefore, it’s important that it is strong enough to fulfill its function.

Like all tissues in the body, there is a continuous process of building up and breaking down of the skeleton. When we’re young, this is a balanced process. However, after the age of 30, it breaks down more quickly than it builds up, leading to a loss of bone mass. This can then lead to osteoporosis at an older age. For this reason, it’s important to strengthen the skeleton when we’re young.

An active lifestyle and a well-balanced diet can counter the onset of osteoporosis. If the skeleton is not used, it becomes weak. Physical activity helps to strengthen and maintain the bone mass. It is mainly exercises involving impact movements, such as running or jumping, that strengthen the skeleton. It is also recommended that you avoid alcohol and smoking as they can have a restrictive effect on bone turnover.

Exercises to strengthen the skeleton

The building up and breaking down of bone tissue is an ongoing process in the skeleton. Every time the skeleton is exposed to a heavy load, it reacts by increasing the production of bone tissue. When the skeleton is not under any load, the breakdown of bone tissue instead increases. Those who do some kind of impactful exercise when they are young therefore develops a stronger skeleton with a higher bone density than those who don’t do any exercise. Those who are actively involved in sports when they are young therefore develop osteoporosis less frequently.

Continue reading about different types of joints.