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9.1 Classification of Joints

Structural classifications of the body joints are based on how the bones are held together and articulate with each other. At fibrous joints, the adjacent bones are directly united to each other by fibrous connective tissue. Similarly, at a cartilaginous joint, the adjacent bones are united by cartilage. In contrast, at a synovial joint, the articulating bone surfaces are not directly united to each other, but come together within a fluid-filled joint cavity.

The functional classification of body joints is based on the degree of movement found at each joint. A synarthrosis is a joint that is essentially immobile. This type of joint provides for a strong connection between the adjacent bones, which serves to protect internal structures such as the brain or heart. Examples include the fibrous joints of the skull sutures and the cartilaginous manubriosternal joint. A joint that allows for limited movement is an amphiarthrosis. An example is the pubic symphysis of the pelvis, the cartilaginous joint that strongly unites the right and left hip bones of the pelvis. The cartilaginous joints in which vertebrae are united by intervertebral discs provide for small movements between the adjacent vertebrae and are also an amphiarthrosis type of joint. Thus, based on their movement ability, both fibrous and cartilaginous joints are functionally classified as a synarthrosis or amphiarthrosis.

The most common type of joint is the diarthrosis, which is a freely moveable joint. All synovial joints are functionally classified as diarthroses. A uniaxial diarthrosis, such as the elbow, is a joint that only allows for movement within a single anatomical plane. Joints that allow for movements in two planes are biaxial joints, such as the metacarpophalangeal joints of the fingers. A multiaxial joint, such as the shoulder or hip joint, allows for three planes of motions.

9.2 Fibrous Joints

Fibrous joints are where adjacent bones are strongly united by fibrous connective tissue. The gap filled by connective tissue may be narrow or wide. The three types of fibrous joints are sutures, gomphoses, and syndesmoses. A suture is the narrow fibrous joint that unites most bones of the skull. At a gomphosis, the root of a tooth is anchored across a narrow gap by periodontal ligaments to the walls of its socket in the bony jaw. A syndesmosis is the type of fibrous joint found between parallel bones. The gap between the bones may be wide and filled with a fibrous interosseous membrane, or it may narrow with ligaments spanning between the bones. Syndesmoses are found between the bones of the forearm (radius and ulna) and the leg (tibia and fibula). Fibrous joints strongly unite adjacent bones and thus serve to provide protection for internal organs, strength to body regions, or weight-bearing stability.

9.3 Cartilaginous Joints

There are two types of cartilaginous joints. A synchondrosis is formed when the adjacent bones are united by hyaline cartilage. A temporary synchondrosis is formed by the epiphyseal plate of a growing long bone, which is lost when the epiphyseal plate ossifies as the bone reaches maturity. The synchondrosis is thus replaced by a synostosis. Permanent synchondroses that do not ossify are found at the first sternocostal joint and between the anterior ends of the bony ribs and the junction with their costal cartilage. A symphysis is where the bones are joined by fibrocartilage and the gap between the bones may be narrow or wide. A narrow symphysis is found at the manubriosternal joint and at the pubic symphysis. A wide symphysis is the intervertebral symphysis in which the bodies of adjacent vertebrae are united by an intervertebral disc.

9.4 Synovial Joints

Synovial joints are the most common type of joints in the body. They are characterized by the presence of a joint cavity, inside of which the bones of the joint articulate with each other. The articulating surfaces of the bones at a synovial joint are not directly connected to each other by connective tissue or cartilage, which allows the bones to move freely against each other. The walls of the joint cavity are formed by the articular capsule. Friction between the bones is reduced by a thin layer of articular cartilage covering the surfaces of the bones, and by a lubricating synovial fluid, which is secreted by the synovial membrane.

Synovial joints are strengthened by the presence of ligaments, which hold the bones together and resist excessive or abnormal movements of the joint. Ligaments are classified as extrinsic ligaments if they are located outside of the articular capsule, intrinsic ligaments if they are fused to the wall of the articular capsule, or intracapsular ligaments if they are located inside the articular capsule. Some synovial joints also have an articular disc (meniscus), which can provide padding between the bones, smooth their movements, or strongly join the bones together to strengthen the joint. Muscles and their tendons acting across a joint can also increase their contractile strength when needed, thus providing indirect support for the joint.

Bursae contain a lubricating fluid that serves to reduce friction between structures. Subcutaneous bursae prevent friction between the skin and an underlying bone, submuscular bursae protect muscles from rubbing against a bone or another muscle, and a subtendinous bursa prevents friction between bone and a muscle tendon. Tendon sheaths contain a lubricating fluid and surround tendons to allow for smooth movement of the tendon as it crosses a joint.

Based on the shape of the articulating bone surfaces and the types of movement allowed, synovial joints are classified into six types. At a pivot joint, one bone is held within a ring by a ligament and its articulation with a second bone. Pivot joints only allow for rotation around a single axis. These are found at the articulation between the C1 (atlas) and the dens of the C2 (axis) vertebrae, which provides the side-to-side rotation of the head, or at the proximal radioulnar joint between the head of the radius and the radial notch of the ulna, which allows for rotation of the radius during forearm movements. Hinge joints, such as at the elbow, knee, ankle, or interphalangeal joints between phalanx bones of the fingers and toes, allow only for bending and straightening of the joint. Pivot and hinge joints are functionally classified as uniaxial joints.

Condyloid joints are found where the shallow depression of one bone receives a rounded bony area formed by one or two bones. Condyloid joints are found at the base of the fingers (metacarpophalangeal joints) and at the wrist (radiocarpal joint). At a saddle joint, the articulating bones fit together like a rider and a saddle. An example is the first carpometacarpal joint located at the base of the thumb. Both condyloid and saddle joints are functionally classified as biaxial joints.

Plane joints are formed between the small, flattened surfaces of adjacent bones. These joints allow the bones to slide or rotate against each other, but the range of motion is usually slight and tightly limited by ligaments or surrounding bones. This type of joint is found between the articular processes of adjacent vertebrae, at the acromioclavicular joint, or at the intercarpal joints of the hand and intertarsal joints of the foot. Ball-and-socket joints, in which the rounded head of a bone fits into a large depression or socket, are found at the shoulder and hip joints. Both plane and ball-and-sockets joints are classified functionally as multiaxial joints. However, ball-and-socket joints allow for large movements, while the motions between bones at a plane joint are small.

9.5 Types of Body Movements

The variety of movements provided by the different types of synovial joints allows for a large range of body motions and gives you tremendous mobility. These movements allow you to flex or extend your body or limbs, medially rotate and adduct your arms and flex your elbows to hold a heavy object against your chest, raise your arms above your head, rotate or shake your head, and bend to touch the toes (with or without bending your knees).

Each of the different structural types of synovial joints also allow for specific motions. The atlantoaxial pivot joint provides side-to-side rotation of the head, while the proximal radioulnar articulation allows for rotation of the radius during pronation and supination of the forearm. Hinge joints, such as at the knee and elbow, allow only for flexion and extension. Similarly, the hinge joint of the ankle only allows for dorsiflexion and plantar flexion of the foot.

Condyloid and saddle joints are biaxial. These allow for flexion and extension, and abduction and adduction. The sequential combination of flexion, adduction, extension, and abduction produces circumduction. Multiaxial plane joints provide for only small motions, but these can add together over several adjacent joints to produce body movement, such as inversion and eversion of the foot. Similarly, plane joints allow for flexion, extension, and lateral flexion movements of the vertebral column. The multiaxial ball and socket joints allow for flexion-extension, abduction-adduction, and circumduction. In addition, these also allow for medial (internal) and lateral (external) rotation. Ball-and-socket joints have the greatest range of motion of all synovial joints.

9.6 Anatomy of Selected Synovial Joints

Although synovial joints share many common features, each joint of the body is specialized for certain movements and activities. The joints of the upper limb provide for large ranges of motion, which give the upper limb great mobility, thus enabling actions such as the throwing of a ball or typing on a keyboard. The joints of the lower limb are more robust, giving them greater strength and the stability needed to support the body weight during running, jumping, or kicking activities.

The joints of the vertebral column include the symphysis joints formed by each intervertebral disc and the plane synovial joints between the superior and inferior articular processes of adjacent vertebrae. Each of these joints provide for limited motions, but these sum together to produce flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation of the neck and body. The range of motions available in each region of the vertebral column varies, with all of these motions available in the cervical region. Only rotation is allowed in the thoracic region, while the lumbar region has considerable extension, flexion, and lateral flexion, but rotation is prevented. The atlanto-occipital joint allows for flexion and extension of the head, while the atlantoaxial joint is a pivot joint that provides for rotation of the head.

The temporomandibular joint is the articulation between the condyle of the mandible and the mandibular fossa and articular tubercle of the skull temporal bone. An articular disc is located between the bony components of this joint. A combination of gliding and hinge motions of the mandibular condyle allows for elevation/depression, protraction/retraction, and side-to-side motions of the lower jaw.

The glenohumeral (shoulder) joint is a multiaxial ball-and-socket joint that provides flexion/extension, abduction/adduction, circumduction, and medial/lateral rotation of the humerus. The head of the humerus articulates with the glenoid cavity of the scapula. The glenoid labrum extends around the margin of the glenoid cavity. Intrinsic ligaments, including the coracohumeral ligament and glenohumeral ligaments, provide some support for the shoulder joint. However, the primary support comes from muscles crossing the joint whose tendons form the rotator cuff. These muscle tendons are protected from friction against the scapula by the subacromial bursa and subscapular bursa.

The elbow is a uniaxial hinge joint that allows for flexion/extension of the forearm. It includes the humeroulnar joint and the humeroradial joint. The medial elbow is supported by the ulnar collateral ligament and the radial collateral ligament supports the lateral side. These ligaments prevent side-to-side movements and resist hyperextension of the elbow. The proximal radioulnar joint is a pivot joint that allows for rotation of the radius during pronation/supination of the forearm. The annular ligament surrounds the head of the radius to hold it in place at this joint.

The hip joint is a ball-and-socket joint whose motions are more restricted than at the shoulder to provide greater stability during weight bearing. The hip joint is the articulation between the head of the femur and the acetabulum of the hip bone. The acetabulum is deepened by the acetabular labrum. The iliofemoral, pubofemoral, and ischiofemoral ligaments strongly support the hip joint in the upright, standing position. The ligament of the head of the femur provides little support but carries an important artery that supplies the femur.

The knee includes three articulations. The femoropatellar joint is between the patella and distal femur. The patella, a sesamoid bone incorporated into the tendon of the quadriceps femoris muscle of the anterior thigh, serves to protect this tendon from rubbing against the distal femur during knee movements. The medial and lateral tibiofemoral joints, between the condyles of the femur and condyles of the tibia, are modified hinge joints that allow for knee extension and flexion. During these movements, the condyles of the femur both roll and glide over the surface of the tibia. As the knee comes into full extension, a slight medial rotation of the femur serves to “lock” the knee into its most stable, weight-bearing position. The reverse motion, a small lateral rotation of the femur, is required to initiate knee flexion. When the knee is flexed, some rotation of the leg is available.

Two extrinsic ligaments, the tibial collateral ligament on the medial side and the fibular collateral ligament on the lateral side, serve to resist hyperextension or rotation of the extended knee joint. Two intracapsular ligaments, the anterior cruciate ligament and posterior cruciate ligament, span between the tibia and the inner aspects of the femoral condyles. The anterior cruciate ligament resists hyperextension of the knee, while the posterior cruciate ligament prevents anterior sliding of the femur, thus supporting the knee when it is flexed and weight bearing. The medial and lateral menisci, located between the femoral and tibial condyles, are articular discs that provide padding and improve the fit between the bones.

The talocrural joint forms the ankle. It consists of the articulation between the talus bone and the medial malleolus of the tibia, the distal end of the tibia, and the lateral malleolus of the fibula. This is a uniaxial hinge joint that allows only dorsiflexion and plantar flexion of the foot. Gliding motions at the subtalar and intertarsal joints of the foot allow for inversion/eversion of the foot. The ankle joint is supported on the medial side by the deltoid ligament, which prevents side-to-side motions of the talus at the talocrural joint and resists excessive eversion of the foot. The lateral ankle is supported by the anterior and posterior talofibular ligaments and the calcaneofibular ligament. These support the ankle joint and also resist excess inversion of the foot. An inversion ankle sprain, a common injury, will result in injury to one or more of these lateral ankle ligaments.

9.7 Development of Joints

During embryonic growth, bones and joints develop from mesenchyme, an embryonic tissue that gives rise to bone, cartilage, and fibrous connective tissues. In the skull, the bones develop either directly from mesenchyme through the process of intramembranous ossification, or indirectly through endochondral ossification, which initially forms a hyaline cartilage model of the future bone, which is later converted into bone. In both cases, the mesenchyme between the developing bones differentiates into fibrous connective tissue that will unite the skull bones at suture joints. In the limbs, mesenchyme accumulations within the growing limb bud will become a hyaline cartilage model for each of the limb bones. A joint interzone will develop between these areas of cartilage. Mesenchyme cells at the margins of the interzone will give rise to the articular capsule, while cell death at the center forms the space that will become the joint cavity of the future synovial joint. The hyaline cartilage model of each limb bone will eventually be converted into bone via the process of endochondral ossification. However, hyaline cartilage will remain, covering the ends of the adult bone as the articular cartilage.

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