The skeletal system includes all of the bones, cartilages, and ligaments of the body. It serves to support the body, protect the brain and other internal organs, and provides a rigid structure upon which muscles can pull to generate body movements. It also stores fat and the tissue responsible for the production of blood cells. The skeleton is subdivided into two parts. The axial skeleton forms a vertical axis that includes the head, neck, back, and chest. It has 80 bones and consists of the skull, vertebral column, and thoracic cage. The adult vertebral column consists of 24 vertebrae plus the sacrum and coccyx. The thoracic cage is formed by 12 pairs of ribs and the sternum. The appendicular skeleton consists of 126 bones in the adult and includes all of the bones of the upper and lower limbs plus the bones that anchor each limb to the axial skeleton.
The skull consists of the brain case and the facial bones. The brain case surrounds and protects the brain, which occupies the cranial cavity inside the skull. It consists of the rounded calvaria and a complex base. The brain case is formed by eight bones, the paired parietal and temporal bones plus the unpaired frontal, occipital, sphenoid, and ethmoid bones. The narrow gap between the bones is filled with dense, fibrous connective tissue that unites the bones. The sagittal suture joins the right and left parietal bones. The coronal suture joins the parietal bones to the frontal bone, the lambdoid suture joins them to the occipital bone, and the squamous suture joins them to the temporal bone.
The facial bones support the facial structures and form the upper and lower jaws. These consist of 14 bones, with the paired maxillary, palatine, zygomatic, nasal, lacrimal, and inferior conchae bones and the unpaired vomer and mandible bones. The ethmoid bone also contributes to the formation of facial structures. The maxilla forms the upper jaw and the mandible forms the lower jaw. The maxilla also forms the larger anterior portion of the hard palate, which is completed by the smaller palatine bones that form the posterior portion of the hard palate.
The floor of the cranial cavity increases in depth from front to back and is divided into three cranial fossae. The anterior cranial fossa is located between the frontal bone and lesser wing of the sphenoid bone. A small area of the ethmoid bone, consisting of the crista galli and cribriform plates, is located at the midline of this fossa. The middle cranial fossa extends from the lesser wing of the sphenoid bone to the petrous ridge (petrous portion of temporal bone). The right and left sides are separated at the midline by the sella turcica, which surrounds the shallow hypophyseal fossa. Openings through the skull in the floor of the middle fossa include the optic canal and superior orbital fissure, which open into the posterior orbit, the foramen rotundum, foramen ovale, and foramen spinosum, and the exit of the carotid canal with its underlying foramen lacerum. The deep posterior cranial fossa extends from the petrous ridge to the occipital bone. Openings here include the large foramen magnum, plus the internal acoustic meatus, jugular foramina, and hypoglossal canals. Additional openings located on the external base of the skull include the stylomastoid foramen and the entrance to the carotid canal.
The anterior skull has the orbits that house the eyeballs and associated muscles. The walls of the orbit are formed by contributions from seven bones: the frontal, zygomatic, maxillary, palatine, ethmoid, lacrimal, and sphenoid. Located at the superior margin of the orbit is the supraorbital foramen, and below the orbit is the infraorbital foramen. The mandible has two openings, the mandibular foramen on its inner surface and the mental foramen on its external surface near the chin. The nasal conchae are bony projections from the lateral walls of the nasal cavity. The large inferior nasal concha is an independent bone, while the middle and superior conchae are parts of the ethmoid bone. The nasal septum is formed by the perpendicular plate of the ethmoid bone, the vomer bone, and the septal cartilage. The paranasal sinuses are air-filled spaces located within the frontal, maxillary, sphenoid, and ethmoid bones.
On the lateral skull, the zygomatic arch consists of two parts, the temporal process of the zygomatic bone anteriorly and the zygomatic process of the temporal bone posteriorly. The temporal fossa is the shallow space located on the lateral skull above the level of the zygomatic arch. The infratemporal fossa is located below the zygomatic arch and deep to the ramus of the mandible.
The hyoid bone is located in the upper neck and does not join with any other bone. It is held in position by muscles and serves to support the tongue above, the larynx below, and the pharynx posteriorly.
The vertebral column forms the neck and back. The vertebral column originally develops as 33 vertebrae, but is eventually reduced to 24 vertebrae, plus the sacrum and coccyx. The vertebrae are divided into the cervical region (C1–C7 vertebrae), the thoracic region (T1–T12 vertebrae), and the lumbar region (L1–L5 vertebrae). The sacrum arises from the fusion of five sacral vertebrae and the coccyx from the fusion of four small coccygeal vertebrae. The vertebral column has four curvatures, the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacrococcygeal curves. The thoracic and sacrococcygeal curves are primary curves retained from the original fetal curvature. The cervical and lumbar curves develop after birth and thus are secondary curves. The cervical curve develops as the infant begins to hold up the head, and the lumbar curve appears with standing and walking.
A typical vertebra consists of an enlarged anterior portion called the body, which provides weight-bearing support. Attached posteriorly to the body is a vertebral arch, which surrounds and defines the vertebral foramen for passage of the spinal cord. The vertebral arch consists of the pedicles, which attach to the vertebral body, and the laminae, which come together to form the roof of the arch. Arising from the vertebral arch are the laterally projecting transverse processes and the posteriorly oriented spinous process. The superior articular processes project upward, where they articulate with the downward projecting inferior articular processes of the next higher vertebrae.
A typical cervical vertebra has a small body, a bifid (Y-shaped) spinous process, and U-shaped transverse processes with a transverse foramen. In addition to these characteristics, the axis (C2 vertebra) also has the dens projecting upward from the vertebral body. The atlas (C1 vertebra) differs from the other cervical vertebrae in that it does not have a body, but instead consists of bony ring formed by the anterior and posterior arches. The atlas articulates with the dens from the axis. A typical thoracic vertebra is distinguished by its long, downward projecting spinous process. Thoracic vertebrae also have articulation facets on the body and transverse processes for attachment of the ribs. Lumbar vertebrae support the greatest amount of body weight and thus have a large, thick body. They also have a short, blunt spinous process. The sacrum is triangular in shape. The median sacral crest is formed by the fused vertebral spinous processes and the lateral sacral crest is derived from the fused transverse processes. Anterior (ventral) and posterior (dorsal) sacral foramina allow branches of the sacral spinal nerves to exit the sacrum. The auricular surfaces are articulation sites on the lateral sacrum that anchor the sacrum to the hipbones to form the pelvis. The coccyx is small and derived from the fusion of four small vertebrae.
The intervertebral discs fill in the gaps between the bodies of adjacent vertebrae. They provide strong attachments and padding between the vertebrae. The outer, fibrous layer of a disc is called the anulus fibrosus. The gel-like interior is called the nucleus pulposus. The disc can change shape to allow for movement between vertebrae. If the anulus fibrosus is weakened or damaged, the nucleus pulposus can protrude outward, resulting in a herniated disc.
The anterior longitudinal ligament runs along the full length of the anterior vertebral column, uniting the vertebral bodies. The supraspinous ligament is located posteriorly and interconnects the spinous processes of the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae. In the neck, this ligament expands to become the nuchal ligament. The nuchal ligament is attached to the cervical spinous processes and superiorly to the base of the skull, out to the external occipital protuberance. The posterior longitudinal ligament runs within the vertebral canal and unites the posterior sides of the vertebral bodies. The ligamentum flavum unites the lamina of adjacent vertebrae.
The thoracic cage protects the heart and lungs. It is composed of 12 pairs of ribs with their costal cartilages and the sternum. The ribs are anchored posteriorly to the 12 thoracic vertebrae. The sternum consists of the manubrium, body, and xiphoid process. The manubrium and body are joined at the sternal angle, which is also the site for attachment of the second ribs.
Ribs are flattened, curved bones and are numbered 1–12. Posteriorly, the head of the rib articulates with the costal facets located on the bodies of thoracic vertebrae and the rib tubercle articulates with the facet located on the vertebral transverse process. The angle of the ribs forms the most posterior portion of the thoracic cage. The costal groove in the inferior margin of each rib carries blood vessels and a nerve. Anteriorly, each rib ends in a costal cartilage. True ribs (1–7) attach directly to the sternum via their costal cartilage. The false ribs (8–12) either attach to the sternum indirectly or not at all. Ribs 8–10 have their costal cartilages attached to the cartilage of the next higher rib. The floating ribs (11–12) are short and do not attach to the sternum or to another rib.
Formation of the axial skeleton begins during early embryonic development with the appearance of the rod-like notochord along the dorsal length of the early embryo. Repeating, paired blocks of tissue called somites then appear along either side of notochord. As the somites grow, they split into parts, one of which is called a sclerotome. This consists of mesenchyme, the embryonic tissue that will become the bones, cartilages, and connective tissues of the body.
Mesenchyme in the head region will produce the bones of the skull via two different mechanisms. The bones of the brain case arise via intramembranous ossification in which embryonic mesenchyme tissue converts directly into bone. At the time of birth, these bones are separated by fontanelles, wide areas of fibrous connective tissue. As the bones grow, the fontanelles are reduced to sutures, which allow for continued growth of the skull throughout childhood. In contrast, the cranial base and facial bones are produced by the process of endochondral ossification, in which mesenchyme tissue initially produces a hyaline cartilage model of the future bone. The cartilage model allows for growth of the bone and is gradually converted into bone over a period of many years.
The vertebrae, ribs, and sternum also develop via endochondral ossification. Mesenchyme accumulates around the notochord and produces hyaline cartilage models of the vertebrae. The notochord largely disappears, but remnants of the notochord contribute to formation of the intervertebral discs. In the thorax region, a portion of the vertebral cartilage model splits off to form the ribs. These then become attached anteriorly to the developing cartilage model of the sternum. Growth of the cartilage models for the vertebrae, ribs, and sternum allow for enlargement of the thoracic cage during childhood and adolescence. The cartilage models gradually undergo ossification and are converted into bone.