Introduction to the Skeletal System
Humans are vertebrates, animals having a vertabral column or backbone. They rely on a sturdy internal frame that is centered on a prominent spine. The human skeletal system consists of bones, cartilage, ligaments and tendons and accounts for about 20 percent of the body weight.
The living bones in our bodies use oxygen and give off waste products in metabolism. They contain active tissues that consume nutrients, require a blood supply and change shape or remodel in response to variations in mechanical stress.
Bones provide a rigid framework, known as the skeleton, that support and protect the soft organs of the body.
The skeleton supports the body against the pull of gravity. The large bones of the lower limbs support the trunk when standing.
The skeleton also protects the soft body parts. The fused bones of the cranium surround the brain to make it less vulnerable to injury. Vertebrae surround and protect the spinal cord and bones of the rib cage help protect the heart and lungs of the thorax.
Bones work together with muscles as simple mechanical lever systems to produce body movement.
Bones contain more [glossary term:] calcium than any other organ. The intercellular matrix of bone contains large amounts of calcium salts, the most important being calcium phosphate.
When blood calcium levels decrease below normal, calcium is released from the bones so that there will be an adequate supply for metabolic needs. When blood calcium levels are increased, the excess calcium is stored in the bone matrix. The dynamic process of releasing and storing calcium goes on almost continuously.
Hematopoiesis, the formation of blood cells, mostly takes place in the red marrow of the bones.
In infants, red marrow is found in the bone cavities. With age, it is largely replaced by yellow marrow for fat storage. In adults, red marrow is limited to the spongy bone in the skull, ribs, sternum, clavicles, vertebrae and pelvis. Red marrow functions in the formation of red blood cells, white blood cells and blood platelets.