Team Biology at
Created by: Team Biology at, Last Updated: July 9, 2024


Bones are a vital component of the vertebrate skeletal system, providing structure and support to the body while also serving crucial roles in mobility, protection, and mineral storage. Comprised primarily of a hard, organic substance called osseous tissue, bones are living, dynamic structures that continuously remodel and repair themselves throughout an individual’s life. In addition to their structural role, bones are essential for protecting critical internal organs. For example, the skull shields the brain, the ribcage safeguards the heart and lungs, and the vertebrae encase the spinal cord.

What is Bone?

Bone is a rigid organ that constitutes part of the vertebrate skeleton. Bones support and protect the various organs of the body, produce red and white blood cells, store minerals, provide structure and support for the body, and enable mobility. Bones are made up of a variety of living cells embedded in a matrix of collagen fibers and an inorganic mineral known as hydroxyapatite, which gives them strength and hardness.

Types of Bones

1. Long Bones

Long bones are characterized by their elongated shape and are longer than they are wide. They primarily consist of a shaft with two ends and are most commonly found in the limbs. The primary function of long bones is to provide leverage and support weight. Examples include:

  • Femur (thigh bone)
  • Tibia and fibula (lower leg bones)
  • Humerus (upper arm bone)

2. Short Bones

Short bones are approximately as wide as they are long, providing support and stability with little to no movement. These bones are usually found in complex joints and are often cube-shaped. Examples include:

  • Carpals (wrist bones)
  • Tarsals (ankle bones)

3. Flat Bones

Flat bones are thin and provide extensive protection or muscular attachment. Their primary function is to protect internal organs such as the brain, heart, and pelvic organs. Examples include:

  • Skull bones
  • Ribs
  • Sternum (breastbone)

4. Irregular Bones

Irregular bones have complex shapes that fit none of the preceding categories. They are primarily involved in protection and support of various body structures. Examples include:

  • Vertebrae (spinal bones)
  • Sacrum
  • Mandible (jawbone)

5. Sesamoid Bones

Sesamoid bones are small, round bones embedded within tendons. They are found in locations where a tendon passes over a joint, such as the hands, knees, and feet. Their main function is to protect tendons and increase their mechanical effect. The most well-known sesamoid bone is the patella (kneecap).

Functions of Bones

Functions of Bones

1. Support

Bones form the framework of the body, supporting the shape and form of the human body. They provide a structural scaffold that supports the soft tissues and maintains the body’s shape.

2. Protection

Bones protect internal organs from injury by encasing them in rigid structures. For example:

  • The skull protects the brain.
  • The rib cage safeguards the heart and lungs.
  • The vertebrae shield the spinal cord.

3. Movement

Bones facilitate movement by acting as levers and points of attachment for muscles. When muscles contract, they pull on bones, creating movement at the joints. This collaboration between bones and muscles is fundamental for all physical actions from walking to fine motor skills.

4. Mineral Storage

Bones act as reserves for minerals, particularly calcium and phosphorus. These minerals are essential for various cellular activities and are released into the bloodstream as needed, helping to regulate mineral balance in the body.

5. Blood Cell Production

The bone marrow, found within the hollow centers of many bones, is a vital site for the production of blood cells, a process known as hematopoiesis. Bone marrow produces red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets, which are crucial for carrying oxygen, fighting infections, and clotting blood, respectively.

6. Energy Storage

Bones also play a role in energy storage through the storage of lipids in the bone marrow’s adipose cells. These lipids can be utilized as an energy source when required.

7. Hormone Production

Recent research has shown that bones also produce several hormones, including osteocalcin, which plays a role in regulating blood sugar and fat deposition. The hormone functions illustrate the endocrine role of bones in broader bodily functions.

8. Sound Transmission

In the auditory system, the bones of the middle ear (malleus, incus, and stapes) are crucial for transmitting sound vibrations from the outer ear to the inner ear. This function is vital for hearing.

Structure of Bones

1. Bone Tissue

Bone tissue is of two main types, each serving distinct functions:

  • Compact Bone: This forms the external layer of all bones, offering strength and rigidity. Compact bone is dense and provides the smooth, white, and solid appearance of the bone. It consists of tightly packed cells and matrix, minimizing spaces and making the bone stronger to handle loads and stress.
  • Spongy Bone (Cancellous Bone): Contrasting with compact bone, spongy bone is characterized by a porous, honeycomb-like structure composed of trabeculae. These trabeculae are aligned in patterns that help the bone resist stress from various directions. The spaces within trabeculae are often filled with bone marrow, crucial for producing blood cells.

2. Bone Marrow

Located within the cavities of bones, bone marrow is of two types:

  • Red Marrow: Responsible for the production of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. It is found predominantly in the pelvis, sternum, and other flat bones.
  • Yellow Marrow: Mainly made up of adipose tissue and found in the central cavities of the long bones such as the femur. Yellow marrow stores fats and serves as a potential source of energy.

3. Periosteum

The periosteum is a dense, fibrous membrane that covers the outer surface of all bones except at the joints. It contains nerves and blood vessels that nourish the bone. The periosteum also serves as a connection point for ligaments and tendons, providing an anchor for muscle attachment which facilitates movement.

4. Endosteum

This is a thin layer of connective tissue that lines the inner surface of the bone cavities, including the marrow cavity. The endosteum contains osteogenic cells that are essential for bone growth and repair.

5. Bone Cells

There are three primary types of cells that contribute to the growth, maintenance, and repair of bones:

  • Osteoblasts: These cells are involved in the formation of new bone tissue.
  • Osteocytes: Mature bone cells derived from osteoblasts, these cells maintain the bone matrix and communicate with other bone cells.
  • Osteoclasts: These are large cells that resorb or break down bone tissue, important in the development, maintenance, and repair of bone.

6. Bone Matrix

The bone matrix consists of organic and inorganic components. The organic part, primarily made up of collagen fibers, provides elasticity and tensile strength. The inorganic part is mostly hydroxyapatite, a mineral compound that gives bones their hardness and ability to resist compression.

Development of Bones

The development of bones, a process known as ossification, is critical for human growth and plays a key role in the formation of the skeletal system. This process begins early in fetal development and continues into young adulthood. Understanding ossification involves exploring two primary methods: intramembranous ossification and endochondral ossification. Both are vital for forming different types of bones and are influenced by genetic and environmental factors.

Intramembranous Ossification

Intramembranous ossification primarily forms the flat bones of the skull, the mandible, and the clavicles. This process starts when mesenchymal stem cells, which are multipotent connective tissue cells, aggregate in regions of future bones. These cells then differentiate into osteoblasts, which are bone-forming cells. Osteoblasts begin the synthesis of bone matrix by secreting collagen and other compounds. As the matrix calcifies, osteoblasts become trapped within it, differentiating into osteocytes and forming the mature bone structure. This type of ossification is critical for shaping the skull and providing protection for the brain and sensory organs.

Endochondral Ossification

Endochondral ossification is responsible for the formation of long bones, such as femurs, and most of the skeleton’s bones. This process begins with a cartilage model, which is gradually replaced by bone. It starts with the proliferation of chondrocytes (cartilage cells) in the center of cartilage, forming the primary ossification center. These chondrocytes then enlarge and die as the surrounding cartilage matrix calcifies. Blood vessels penetrate the calcified cartilage, bringing osteoblasts that start to lay down bone matrix, replacing the cartilage. Growth continues at the epiphyseal plates, areas of active cartilage production at the ends of bones, which allow for lengthening until early adulthood.

Bone Marrow

Bone Marrow

Red Bone Marrow

Red bone marrow is primarily involved in hematopoiesis, the process of producing blood cells. It is rich in hematopoietic stem cells, which are capable of developing into the three types of blood cells: red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

  • Red Blood Cells (Erythrocytes): These cells are responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body and returning carbon dioxide back to the lungs for expulsion.
  • White Blood Cells (Leukocytes): These are crucial for the immune system, protecting the body against infections and foreign bodies.
  • Platelets (Thrombocytes): Essential for blood clotting and wound healing.

Red bone marrow is found in higher quantities in the flat bones such as the pelvis, sternum, skull, ribs, vertebrae, and shoulder blades, and in the cancellous material at the proximal ends of the femur and humerus in adults.

Yellow Bone Marrow

Yellow bone marrow consists mainly of adipocytes (fat cells) and some mesenchymal stem cells, which can produce fat, cartilage, and bone. It serves primarily as a store for fats but can be converted back to red marrow under certain conditions such as severe blood loss or illness. This conversion is crucial as it helps the body to meet increased demands for blood production.

Functions of Bone Marrow

Bone marrow’s primary function is the production of blood cells through the process of hematopoiesis. However, it also serves other important roles:

  • Immune Response: By producing white blood cells, the bone marrow is a key component of the immune system, defending against pathogens and disease.
  • Storage and Release of Fats: Yellow marrow serves as an energy reserve, storing fats that can be used by the body when needed.
  • Regulation of Bone Growth: Mesenchymal stem cells in the marrow contribute to the growth and repair of skeletal structures.

Types of Bone Tissue

Compact Bone

  • Highly organized and dense
  • Forms the outer layer of bones
  • Functions primarily to support and protect

Spongy Bone

  • Less dense, consisting of trabeculae
  • Found at the ends of long bones and inside flat bones
  • Supports and protects the red bone marrow

Cellular Composition of Bone

Bones are living tissues that continually remodel and repair themselves. They consist of four main types of cells:

1. Osteoprogenitor Cells

These are stem cells derived from the periosteum and endosteum that can differentiate into osteoblasts.

2. Osteoblasts

Osteoblasts are bone-forming cells responsible for synthesizing and mineralizing bone during growth and repair.

3. Osteocytes

Osteocytes are mature bone cells that maintain the bone matrix and regulate the exchange of nutrients and waste with the blood.

4. Osteoclasts

Osteoclasts are large cells that resorb or break down bone tissue, important for bone development, growth, maintenance, and repair.

Bone Diseases and Management

Bone diseases are numerous and can be managed by specialists across various fields:

  • Rheumatologists treat joint issues and related conditions.
  • Orthopedic surgeons perform surgeries to repair bone fractures and structural issues.
  • Rehabilitation specialists assist in recovery from bone injuries or surgeries.
  • Radiologists specialize in imaging techniques like X-rays and MRIs to diagnose bone conditions.
  • Pathologists help determine the pathology of bone diseases through microscopic examination.

When diagnosing bone issues, a combination of patient history, physical examinations, and imaging tests are employed. Advanced imaging techniques such as CT scans and bone scans might be used to assess cancerous conditions. Additional tests might include blood work for autoimmune diseases or synovial fluid analysis for joint-related disorders.

Common Conditions Affecting Bones


Fractures can occur from direct impacts, repetitive stress, or as a result of bone weakening diseases like osteoporosis or cancer. Types of fractures vary from simple breaks to complex ones that may require surgical intervention and bone grafting. Treatment typically involves immobilization and pain management, followed by rehabilitation to restore function and mobility.

Bone Tumors

Bone tumors may be benign or malignant and affect the bone’s structure and function. Common benign tumors include osteoma and osteochondroma, while primary malignant tumors, though rare, include osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma. Secondary bone cancers, or metastases, more commonly originate from cancers of the breast, lung, or prostate. Treatment depends on the type and extent of the tumor and may involve surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy.

Bone Infections

Osteomyelitis is an infection of the bone that can cause severe pain and systemic symptoms. It is typically caused by bacteria and treated with antibiotics and sometimes surgical debridement.

Metabolic Bone Diseases

  • Osteoporosis involves the thinning of bone tissue and loss of bone density over time, leading to fractures.
  • Osteomalacia, adult bone softening due to vitamin D deficiency, leads to bone pain and muscle weakness.
  • Paget’s Disease of Bone causes abnormal bone destruction and regrowth, which can lead to bone deformities.

Autoimmune and Systemic Conditions

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis and Ankylosing Spondylitis are autoimmune disorders affecting the bones and joints, leading to pain and joint deformities.
  • Skeletal Fluorosis, an excessive accumulation of fluoride in the bones, causes pain and damage to bones and joints.


What Is the Bone Structure of the Human Body?

The human skeleton is composed of 206 bones, including the axial and appendicular skeleton, providing structure and protection.

What Is the Composition of the Bones in the Human Body?

Bones consist primarily of collagen and calcium phosphate, which give them strength and flexibility.

Where Is the Bone Name?

Bone names are anatomically designated based on their location and function, such as femur (thigh) or tibia (shin).

What Are the Two Types of Bone and What Are Their Features?

There are two types of bone: cortical (hard, dense outer layer) and trabecular (spongy, inner structure).

What Are the 206 Bones Called?

The 206 bones in the human body are collectively referred to as the human skeleton.

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