Trabeculae in Bone: Function, Structure & Location

Kelly Barkers, Betsy Chesnutt
  • Author
    Kelly Barkers

    Kelly taught 7th grade science for 5 years and served as the Science Department Chair. She graduated from Cedar Crest College with a bachelor's degree in biology and a minor in health and wellness. While attending college, she was a peer tutor for Anatomy and Physiology.

  • Instructor
    Betsy Chesnutt

    Betsy has a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from the University of Memphis, M.S. from the University of Virginia, and B.S. from Mississippi State University. She has over 10 years of experience developing STEM curriculum and teaching physics, engineering, and biology.

Understand what trabeculae is and where it is located in the body. Learn the trabeculae definition, about trabeculae function, and the properties of trabecular bone in the body. Updated: 10/31/2021

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What is a Trabecula?

Trabecula, in general, is the descriptive name for the structure and function of some tissues. Trabecula tissue can be made of columns of connective tissues or bundles of fibers that create a web-like structure. Trabecula can be found in animals and even be seen in plant tissues. Furthermore, the plural word for this structure of tissue is trabeculae. The definition of trabeculae is an interwoven network of connective tissue that separates or divides a cavity or organ. The word trabecula comes from the Latin word "trabes" meaning beam or timber. The medical community adapted the use of this word because the trabeculae support other tissues and organs in the same way a beam supports the structure of a building.

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  • 0:00 What Are Trabeculae?
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Just like beams in a building, the trabeculae provide support for tissues in organisms.

Beams in a building

Where are Trabeculae Found?

Specifically in humans, trabeculae can be found within many body systems. The spleen, for example, is an organ located between the stomach and diaphragm. Its trabeculae are a network of connective tissues that help support the organ's overall structure. Furthermore, trabecular structures can be found in the ventricles of cardiac muscle or the interior of the lower chambers of the heart. Again, their function is to provide support. Moreover, trabeculae can be found within the bones of the skeletal system. Not only does the trabeculae provide support and strength to the bones, but the areas within the network of connective tissue play an important role in blood cell production.

Trabecular Bone: Trabeculae of Spongy Bone

Many bones in the body contain two main groups of layers: cortical bone and spongy bone. Cortical bone is the outer structure of the bone that forms a protective layer around the inner portion of the bone. Spongy bone, also known as cancellous bone, can be found under cortical bone and contains bony trabeculae. The trabeculae form a network of rods and columns of tissues that give this type of bone a spongy appearance. Trabeculation of the bone occurs during the third month of fetal development. The cartilage inside the bone begins to be replaced with spongy bone through a process called ossification.

Once the body begins to produce spongy bone from cartilage, the spongy bone and trabecular tissue can be found at the end of long bones and in flat bones. Long bones are bones that have a greater length than width and include bones like the femur (thighbone) and humerus (upper arm bone). Additionally, flat bones are bones with a compressed or flattened appearance such as the sternum (breastbone), ribs and vertebrae of the spine.

Inside flat bones, such as the ribs, spongy bone and trabecular tissue are found sandwiched between cortical bone.

Inner structure of bone

Structure of Trabeculae

Spongy bone is less dense than cortical bone, mainly due to the presence of trabecular tissue. Since the trabeculae are composed of many interwoven rods, spongy bone contains various channels and open areas. The size of these openings vary but the pattern of the web-like structure is purposefully created to withstand the stress and pressure the body exerts on the bones. The open areas in the trabeculae enable the bones to be lighter, which allows for easier body movement. It is important to note the open areas do not sacrifice the strength of the bones.

Furthermore, a very important substance is found throughout the channels and open areas in the trabecular tissue. Red bone marrow is located within these spaces of the trabeculae in spongy bone. Red bone marrow is a type of bone marrow that contains hematopoietic stem cells, which help with the production of blood cells.

Trabeculae Function

Despite spongy bone's lightweight structure, it is incredibly strong and resilient to changes in weight distribution. Just like the beams holding the framework of a skyscraper, the trabeculae support the bones. In fact, the pattern of the trabeculae can change over time as the body experiences an increase or decrease in force on the bones. For example, a marathon runner that has trained over many months will have a different appearance of their trabeculae versus someone who has a very sedentary lifestyle. Throughout the duration of one's life, the bones continue to rebuild themselves through a process called remodeling. The bone cells receive information from other parts of the body that tell them to alter the structure of the trabeculae.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between cortical bone and trabecular bone?

The outside of the bones is made up cortical bone while the inside is made of spongy bone or cancellous bone. The spongy bone is made up of supporting tissues called trabecular bone.

What is the function of trabecular bone?

Trabecular bone is found inside spongy or cancellous bone. The trabeculae act like a network of supporting beams to provide strength and support to the bones.

What are Trabeculae in bone?

Trabeculae in bone are made up of columns and rows of connective tissues that form a web-like appearance. Red bone marrow fills in the holes in the trabeculae.

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