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Understanding the basic anatomy and physiology of the human body

The musculoskeletal system

The musculoskeletal system consists of the bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons.


The function of the musculoskeletal system is to:

The skeletal system

The skeletal system is comprised of bones and joints and provides the basic supporting structure of the body. It consists of the joined framework of bones called the skeleton. The human skeleton is made up of 206 bones.

Click here for a drawing of a the major bone structures of the body. Roll your mouse over the different parts of the skeleton to reveal the bone names.


Bone is a dry, dense tissue composed of a calcium-phosphorus mineral and organic matter and water. Bone is covered with a living membrane called the periosteum. The periosteum contains bone-forming cells, the osteoblasts.

The centre of bone contains marrow where blood vessels, fat cells and tissue for manufacturing blood cells are all found.

There are four main shapes of bones:

Activity 8

In this activity you will learn about the location of the bones of the skeletal system. Click here.

Activity 9

Try this crossword


A joint is an area where two or more bones are in contact with each other. Joints allow movement. The bones forming the joint are held together by ligaments.

There are 3 types of joints:

  1. fibrous or immovable e.g. skull
  2. cartilaginous or slightly moveable e.g. vertebrae
  3. synovial or freely movable:
    1. ball and socket e.g. hip
    2. hinge e.g. elbow.
    3. gliding e.g. carpals at wrist
    4. pivot e.g. radius and ulna


There are certain terms that are used to describe the movement of bones:

You have learnt the names of the various joints of the body, but there are also words that describe the various directions in which limbs move. Click here to see an animation.

The muscular system

The muscular system allows us to move and you will need to learn about the muscles of the body in order to understand how this system contributes to the overall design of the human body. The human body is composed of over 500 muscles working together to facilitate movement.

It is very important to understand the muscular system and how it works in conjunction with the skeletal system to allow us to move and maintain our posture.

The major function of the muscular system is to produce movements of the body, to maintain the position of the body against the force of gravity and to produce movements of structures inside the body.


Tendons attach muscle to bone.

There are 3 types of muscles:

  1. skeletal (voluntary) muscles are attached to bone by tendons
  2. smooth (involuntary) muscles control the actions of our gut and blood vessels
  3. cardiac muscle in the heart

Muscles contract (shorten) and relax in response to chemicals and the stimulation of a motor nerve. Some examples of muscles are the triceps, deltoid and the biceps in the upper arm and the gluteal muscle, the hamstrings and the quadriceps in the buttocks and the top of the leg (Sorrentino 1997).

Click here to learn the location and names of the major muscle groups. Roll your curser over the graphic. Click on the arrows at the bottom of the image to view both the anterior and posterior views.


Movement occurs when muscles contract or shorten, pulling the bones with them. Muscles work in pairs; when one shortens, the corresponding muscle lengthens.

Activity 10

In this activity you locate and name the major muscle groups. Click here.

Activity 11

Try this crossword

For further information, go to the Virtual Body at http://www.medtropolis.com/Vbody.asp

More info on muscles: http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/category/7167.html