Types of Joints & Joint Structures in the Body

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  • 0:01 What Is a Joint?
  • 0:41 Fibrous Joints
  • 1:37 Cartilaginous Joints
  • 2:27 Synovial Joints
  • 4:59 Compound Joints
  • 6:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Betsy Chesnutt

Betsy teaches college physics, biology, and engineering and has a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering

Joints allow you to walk, run, turn your head, and tie your shoes, among many other things. In this lesson, you will learn about the different types of joints and about the motion allowed by each type.

What Is a Joint?

Did you walk or run somewhere today? Perhaps you bent over to tie your shoes this morning or used your fingers to make a phone call or send a text? All of these activities, and many more, would be impossible without joints.

Joints are junctions between bones that allow your bones to grow and enable your body to move when your muscles contract. Without joints, you wouldn't be able to move at all! There are many joints in your body, and some allow more types of movement than others. Some of the largest joints, such as the knee, hip, shoulder, and wrist, actually contain several smaller joints that work together to permit you to have a wide range of motion.

Fibrous Joints

In your body, there are three general types of joints. They're classified according to how much motion they allow. Fibrous joints are between bones that are in close contact and allow very little motion. In a fibrous joint, the two bones are connected by a thin layer of connective tissue, which is made mostly of collagen. A fibrous joint is also sometimes called a fixed joint, or a synarthrosis. This word comes from the Greek words for joint (arthro) and together (syn), so it means a joint where the bones are very close together.

The sutures that join bones in your skull together are fibrous joints. In addition, there are fibrous joints between some long bones, like the radius and ulna in your forearm, and the fibrous joints also hold your teeth in your jaw.

Cartilaginous Joints

Cartilaginous joints connect two bones with cartilage in between them. Cartilage is a little bit flexible, so these joints allow for a small amount of motion but not very much. A cartilaginous joint is also called an amphiarthrosis, which means a joint connected on both sides. The joints that connect your ribs to your sternum (in the center of your chest) are cartilaginous. This allows the chest to expand and contract a little bit as you breathe. The joints between vertebrae in your back are also cartilaginous.

Each vertebrae is separated from the next by an intervertebral disc of cartilage that allows a small amount of motion and provides some cushioning to protect the vertebrae and spinal cord from damage as you move around.

Synovial Joints

Finally, the major joints in your body, like the knee, hip, wrist and ankle, are synovial joints. Synovial joints are the most common and most moveable type of joint in the body. A synovial joint is also known as a diarthrosis, which means a joint with two separate bones, because in synovial joints, the bones are not directly connected to each other at all.

A synovial joint always includes two or more bones that are covered with slippery articular cartilage at each end. It is also always enclosed by a joint capsule that secretes a very slippery fluid that lubricates the joint called synovial fluid. In addition, some synovial joints contain a meniscus, which is a disc of fibrocartilage between the ends of the bones, and a bursa, which are small saclike structures filled with synovial fluid. These reduce friction between the ends of the bones in the joint and provide extra cushioning.

There are six types of synovial joints that all allow different types of motion. Gliding joints allow only sliding or gliding motion between the bones and are found in the joints in the wrists and ankles. Hinge joints, like the elbow joint, allow rotational motion in only one plane, just like a door hinge. Pivot joints are joints that allow one bone to rotate around another. In a pivot joint, a cylinder-shaped bone rotates inside another bone or ligament that forms a ring around it. One of the joints between your two vertebrae is a pivot joint that allows your head to turn from side to side.

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