|Themes > Science > Life Sciences > General Biology > Physiology > Muscular and Skeletal Systems > The Axial and Appendicular Skeletons|
The axial skeleton consists of the skull, vertebral column, and rib cage. The appendicular skeleton contains the bones of the appendages (limbs, wings, or flippers/fins), and the pectoral and pelvic girdles.
The human skull, or cranium, has a number of individual bones tightly fitted together at immovable joints. At birth many of these joints are not completely sutured together as bone, leading to a number of "soft spots" or fontanels, which do not completely join until the age of 14-18 months.
The vertebral column has 33 individual vertebrae separated from each other by a cartilage disk. These disks allow a certain flexibility to the spinal column, although the disks deteriorate with age, producing back pain. The sternum is connected to all the ribs except the lower pair. Cartilage allows for the flexibility of the rib cage during breathing.
The arms and legs are part of the appendicular skeleton. The upper bones of the limbs are single: humerus (arm) and femur (leg). Below a joint (elbow or knee), both limbs have a pair of bones (radius and ulna in the arms; tibia and fibula in legs) that connect to another joint (wrist or ankle). The carpals makeup the wrist joint; the tarsals are in the ankle joint. Each hand or foot ends in 5 digits (fingers or toes) composed of metacarpals (hands) or metatarsals (feet).
Limbs are connected to the rest of the skeleton by collections of bones known as girdles. The pectoral girdle consists of the clavicle (collar bone) and scapula (shoulder blade). The humerus is joined to the pectoral girdle at a joint and is held in place by muscles and ligaments. A dislocated shoulder occurs when the end of the humerus slips out of the socket of the scapula, stretching ligaments and muscles. The pelvic girdle consists of two hipbones that form a hollow cavity, the pelvis. The vertebral column attaches to the top of the pelvis; the femur of each leg attaches to the bottom. The pelvic girdle in land animals transfers the weight of the body to the legs and feet. Pelvic girdles in fish, which have their weight supported by water, are primitive; land animals have more developed pelvic girdles. Pelvic girdles in bipeds are recognizable different from those or quadrupeds.