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5.6: Joints

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  • Double Jointed?

    Is this person double jointed? No; there is no such thing, at least as far as humans are concerned. However, some people, like the individual pictured here, are much more flexible than others, generally because they have looser ligaments. Physicians call the condition joint hypermobility. Regardless of what it’s called, the feats of people with highly mobile joints can be quite impressive.


    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Yoga

    What Are Joints?

    Joints are locations at which bones of the skeleton connect with one another. A joint is also called an articulation. The majority of joints are structured in such a way that they allow movement. However, not all joints allow movement. Of joints that do allow movement, the extent, and direction of the movements they allow also vary.

    Classification of Joints

    Joints can be classified as structurally or functionally. The structural classification of joints depends on the manner in which the bones connect to each other. The functional classification of joints depends on the nature of the movement the joints allow. There is significant overlap between the two types of classifications because function depends largely on the structure.

    Structural Classification of Joints

    The structural classification of joints is based on the type of tissue that binds the bones to each other at the joint. There are three types of joints in the structural classification: fibrous, cartilaginous, and synovial joints.

    1. Fibrous joints are joints in which bones are joined by dense connective tissue that is rich in collagen fibers. These joints are also called sutures. The joints between bones of the cranium are fibrous joints.
    2. Cartilaginous joints are joints in which bones are joined by cartilage. The joints between most of the vertebrae in the spine are cartilaginous joints.
    3. Synovial joints are characterized by a fluid-filled space, called a synovial cavity, between the bones of the joints. You can see a drawing of a typical synovial joint in Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\). The cavity is enclosed by a membrane and filled with a fluid, called the synovial fluid, which provides extra cushioning to the ends of the bones. Cartilage covers the articulating surfaces of the two bones, but the bones are actually held together by ligaments. The knee is a synovial joint.
    Typical Synovial Joint
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): The synovial membrane, articular capsule, joint cavity with synovial fluid, articular cartilage, and bone ends are the main components of a typical synovial joint. 

    Functional Classification of Joints

    The functional classification of joints is based on the type and degree of movement that they allow. There are three types of joints in the functional classification: immovable, partly movable, and movable joints.

    1. Immovable joints allow little or no movement at the joint. Most immovable joints are fibrous joints. Besides the bones of the cranium, immovable joints include joints between the tibia and fibula in the lower leg and between the radius and ulna in the lower arm.
    2. Partly movable joints permit slight movement. Most partly movable joints are cartilaginous joints. Besides the joints between vertebrae, they include the joints between the ribs and sternum (breast bone).
    3. Movable joints allow bones to move freely. All movable joints are synovial joints. Besides the knee, they include the shoulder, hip, and elbow. Movable joints are the most common type of joints in the body.

    Types of Movable Joints

    Movable joints can be classified further according to the type of movement they allow. There are six classes of movable joints: pivot, hinge, saddle, plane, condyloid, and ball-and-socket joints. An example of each class, as well as the type of movement it allows, is shown in Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\).

    Types of Synovial Joints
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): This diagram shows the six classes of movable joints in the human body. All of these joints are synovial joints. 
    • A pivot joint allows one bone to rotate around another. An example of a pivot joint is the joint between the first two vertebrae in the spine. This joint allows the head to rotate from left to right and back again.
    • A hinge joint allows back and forth movement like the hinge of a door. An example of a hinge joint is the elbow. This joint allows the arm to bend back and forth.
    • A saddle joint allows two different types of movement. An example of a saddle joint is the joint between the first metacarpal bone in the hand and one of the carpal bones in the wrist. This joint allows the thumb to move toward and away from the index finger and also to cross over the palm toward the little finger.
    • A plane joint also called a gliding joint, allows two bones that glide over one another. The joints between the tarsals in the ankles and between the carpals in the wrists are mainly gliding joints. In the wrist, this type of joint allows the hand to bend upward at the wrist and also to wave from side to side while the lower arm is held steady.
    • A condyloid joint is one in which an oval-shaped head on one bone moves in an elliptical cavity in another bone, allowing movement in all directions except rotation around an axis. The joint between the radius in the lower arm and carpal bones of the wrist is a condyloid joint as is the joint at the base of the index finger.
    • A ball-and-socket joint allows the greatest range of movement of any movable joint. It allows forward and backward as well as upward and downward motions. It also allows rotation in a circle. The hip and shoulder are the only two ball-and-socket joints in the human body.

    Feature: My Human Body

    Of all the parts of the skeletal system, the joints are generally the most fragile and subject to damage. If the cartilage that cushions bones at joints wears away, it does not grow back. Eventually, all of the cartilage may wear away. This is the cause of osteoarthritis, which can be both painful and debilitating. In serious cases, people may lose the ability to climb stairs, walk long distances, perform routine daily activities, or participate in activities they love such as gardening or playing sports. If you protect your joints, you can reduce your chances of joint damage, pain, and disability. If you already have joint damage, it is equally important to protect your joints and limit further damage. Follow these five tips:

    1. Maintain a normal, healthy weight. The higher your weight is, the more force you exert on your joints. When you walk, each knee has to bear a force equal to as much as six times your body weight. If a person weighs 200 pounds, each knee bears more than half a ton of weight with every step. Seven in ten knee replacement surgeries for osteoarthritis can be attributed to obesity.
    2. Avoid too much high-impact exercise. Examples of high-impact activities include volleyball, basketball, and tennis. These activities generally involve running or jumping on hard surfaces, which puts tremendous stress on weight-bearing joints, especially the knees. Replace some or all of your high-impact activities with low-impact activities, such as biking, swimming, yoga, or lifting light weights.
    3. Reduce your risk of injury. Don’t be a weekend warrior, sitting at a desk all week and then crowding all your physical activity into two days. Get involved in a regular, daily exercise routine that keeps your body fit and your muscles toned. Building up muscles will make your joints more stable and spread stress across them. Be sure to do some stretching every day to keep the muscles around joints flexible and less prone to injury.
    4. Distribute work over your body, and use your largest, strongest joints. Use your shoulder, elbow, and wrist to lift heavy objects, not just your fingers. Hold small items in the palm of your hand, rather than by the fingers. Carry heavy items in a backpack rather than in your hands. Hold weighty objects close to your body rather than at arms’ length. Lift with your hips and knees, not your back.
    5. Respect pain. If it hurts, stop doing it. Take a break from the activity at least until the pain stops. Try to use joints only to the point of mild fatigue, not pain.


    1. What are the joints?
    2. What are the two ways that joints are commonly classified?
    3. How are joints classified structurally?
    4. Describe the functional classification of joints.
    5. How are movable joints classified?
    6. Name the six classes of movable joints, and describe how they move.
    7. Give an example of a joint in each of the classes of movable joints.
    8. True or False. The skull is one smooth bone and has no joints.
    9. True or False. A plane joint is a type of synovial joint.
    10. Which specific type of moveable joint do you think your knee joint is? Explain your reasoning.
    11. Explain the difference between cartilage in a cartilaginous joint and cartilage in a synovial joint.
    12. Why are fibrous joints immovable?
    13. Which type of joint has ligaments?
      1. Ball-and-socket
      2. Fibrous
      3. Cartilaginous
      4. None of the above
    14. Which type of joint allows for the greatest range of motion?
    15. What is the function of synovial fluid?

    Explore More

    Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is a group of inherited disorders that affect connective tissues. A relatively common form of the syndrome involves mainly the joints. People with this form of Ehlers-Danlos have overly flexible joints or joint hypermobility. This makes their joints prone to excessive wear and tear, dislocations, and early osteoarthritis. You can learn more about this disorder by watching these compelling videos:



    1. Yoga by YogawithAmit,Pixabay license
    2. Synovial joint byOpenStax College,CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
    3. Types of joints by OpenStax College,CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
    4. Text adapted from Human Biology by CK-12 licensed CC BY-NC 3.0