The major functions of the bones are body support, facilitation of movement, protection of internal organs, storage of minerals and fat, and hematopoiesis. Together, the muscular system and skeletal system are known as the musculoskeletal system.
Bones can be classified according to their shapes. Long bones, such as the femur, are longer than they are wide. Short bones, such as the carpals, are approximately equal in length, width, and thickness. Flat bones are thin, but are often curved, such as the ribs. Irregular bones such as those of the face have no characteristic shape. Sesamoid bones, such as the patellae, are small and round, and are located in tendons.
A hollow medullary cavity filled with yellow marrow runs the length of the diaphysis of a long bone. The walls of the diaphysis are compact bone. The epiphyses, which are wider sections at each end of a long bone, are filled with spongy bone and red marrow. The epiphyseal plate, a layer of hyaline cartilage, is replaced by osseous tissue as the organ grows in length. The medullary cavity has a delicate membranous lining called the endosteum. The outer surface of bone, except in regions covered with articular cartilage, is covered with a fibrous membrane called the periosteum. Flat bones consist of two layers of compact bone surrounding a layer of spongy bone. Bone markings depend on the function and location of bones. Articulations are places where two bones meet. Projections stick out from the surface of the bone and provide attachment points for tendons and ligaments. Holes are openings or depressions in the bones.
Bone matrix consists of collagen fibers and organic ground substance, primarily hydroxyapatite formed from calcium salts. Osteogenic cells develop into osteoblasts. Osteoblasts are cells that make new bone. They become osteocytes, the cells of mature bone, when they get trapped in the matrix. Osteoclasts engage in bone resorption. Compact bone is dense and composed of osteons, while spongy bone is less dense and made up of trabeculae. Blood vessels and nerves enter the bone through the nutrient foramina to nourish and innervate bones.
All bone formation is a replacement process. Embryos develop a cartilaginous skeleton and various membranes. During development, these are replaced by bone during the ossification process. In intramembranous ossification, bone develops directly from sheets of mesenchymal connective tissue. In endochondral ossification, bone develops by replacing hyaline cartilage. Activity in the epiphyseal plate enables bones to grow in length. Modeling allows bones to grow in diameter. Remodeling occurs as bone is resorbed and replaced by new bone. Osteogenesis imperfecta is a genetic disease in which collagen production is altered, resulting in fragile, brittle bones.
Fractured bones may be repaired by closed reduction or open reduction. Fractures are classified by their complexity, location, and other features. Common types of fractures are transverse, oblique, spiral, comminuted, impacted, greenstick, open (or compound), and closed (or simple). Healing of fractures begins with the formation of a hematoma, followed by internal and external calli. Osteoclasts resorb dead bone, while osteoblasts create new bone that replaces the cartilage in the calli. The calli eventually unite, remodeling occurs, and healing is complete.
Mechanical stress stimulates the deposition of mineral salts and collagen fibers within bones. Calcium, the predominant mineral in bone, cannot be absorbed from the small intestine if vitamin D is lacking. Vitamin K supports bone mineralization and may have a synergistic role with vitamin D. Magnesium and fluoride, as structural elements, play a supporting role in bone health. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and may promote production of new osseous tissue. Growth hormone increases the length of long bones, enhances mineralization, and improves bone density. Thyroxine stimulates bone growth and promotes the synthesis of bone matrix. The sex hormones (estrogen in women; testosterone in men) promote osteoblastic activity and the production of bone matrix, are responsible for the adolescent growth spurt, and promote closure of the epiphyseal plates. Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by decreased bone mass that is common in aging adults. Calcitriol stimulates the digestive tract to absorb calcium and phosphate. Parathyroid hormone (PTH) stimulates osteoclast proliferation and resorption of bone by osteoclasts. Vitamin D plays a synergistic role with PTH in stimulating the osteoclasts. Additional functions of PTH include promoting reabsorption of calcium by kidney tubules and indirectly increasing calcium absorption from the small intestine. Calcitonin inhibits osteoclast activity and stimulates calcium uptake by bones.
Calcium homeostasis, i.e., maintaining a blood calcium level of about 10 mg/dL, is critical for normal body functions. Hypocalcemia can result in problems with blood coagulation, muscle contraction, nerve functioning, and bone strength. Hypercalcemia can result in lethargy, sluggish reflexes, constipation and loss of appetite, confusion, and coma. Calcium homeostasis is controlled by PTH, vitamin D, and calcitonin and the interactions of the skeletal, endocrine, digestive, and urinary systems.