Skeletal System (Musculoskeletal System)

The skeletal system is your body’s support structure. It gives your body its shape, allows movement, makes blood cells, provides protection for your organs and stores minerals. The skeletal system is also called the musculoskeletal system.


What is the skeletal system?

The skeletal system gives your body its shape and holds your organs in place. In the simplest terms, your skeletal system is your body’s most important support structure. But it’s more than just your skeleton and bones.

Your skeletal system also includes connective tissue that helps you stay supported and safe while you’re moving and still. It includes muscles that help you move and creates new blood cells that keep you healthy. The skeletal system is also called the musculoskeletal system.


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What are the functions of the skeletal system?

The skeletal system has several jobs, some of which are easier to see and feel than others. But they’re all important to your body and health. Your skeletal system’s major functions include:

  • Giving your body shape: Your skeleton supports the weight of your body. It’s also the anchor for all the tissue that connects to it.
  • Helping you move: Your joints, connective tissue and muscles all work together to push and pull parts of your body every time you move.
  • Protecting your organs: The human skeleton is like a built-in suit of armor for organs throughout your body. Your skull protects your brain, your ribs shield your heart and lungs, and the vertebrae in your spine keep your spinal cord safe.
  • Creating new blood cells: Bone marrow at the center of some of your bones produces new red blood cells and white blood cells your body needs to stay healthy.
  • Storing minerals: Your bones hold your body’s supply of important minerals like calcium and vitamin D.


What are the main parts of the skeletal system?

If you’re picturing your skeletal system, you might think of the plastic skeleton your science teacher used to keep in their classroom. It does contain all your bones, but your skeletal system has lots of other tissue, too. Your skeletal system is made of your:

  • Bones: Bones are your body’s main form of structural support. Adults have between 206 and 213 bones in their bodies.
  • Muscles: Muscles are made of tightly woven, stretchy fibers. You have more than 600 muscles in your body that help you do everything from walking, running and jumping to breathing and digesting food.
  • Cartilage: Cartilage is strong, flexible tissue that acts like a shock absorber in joints throughout your body.
  • Ligaments: Ligaments are bands of tissue that connect bones to other bones.
  • Tendons: Tendons are cords that connect muscles to bone.
  • Joints: A joint is any place two bones meet. It contains some of (or all) the pieces listed above.


Conditions and Disorders

What common conditions affect the skeletal system?

Lots of common health conditions and injuries can affect your skeletal system because it’s such an important part of how you use your body.

Anything that damages your bones or connective tissue affects your skeletal system, including:

Many autoimmune diseases affect the skeletal system (especially joints). Some of the most common include:

Traumas like falls, car accidents and injuries often damage your skeletal system. Some of the most common injuries include:

Common signs or symptoms of skeletal issues

Because so many conditions and injuries can affect your skeletal system, you might experience lots of different symptoms. Some common symptoms include:

  • Pain (including muscle pain, joint pain or bone pain).
  • Stiffness.
  • Swelling (inflammation).
  • Skin discoloration or bruising.
  • A feeling of heat or warmth.
  • Trouble moving a part of your body (a reduced range of motion).
  • Hearing or feeling a pop or grinding.

Common tests done to the skeletal system

A healthcare provider will suggest tests based on where you’re experiencing pain or other symptoms. You might need:

What are common treatments for the skeletal system?

Your skeletal system shouldn’t need treatment unless you have a health condition or experience an injury. Your provider will suggest ways to treat what’s causing your symptoms and help your body heal. Some common treatments include:

  • Medication: Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines like NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and acetaminophen relieve pain and reduce swelling. Your provider might prescribe corticosteroids or specific medications to treat an autoimmune disease.
  • Immobilization: It’s common to need a brace, splint, sling or cast after an injury. It’ll hold your injured body part in a stable position while you recover. Your provider will tell you which type of immobilization you’ll need and how long to wear it for.
  • Physical therapy: A physical therapist will help you strengthen muscles and increase your flexibility, especially after an injury.
  • Arthroplasty (joint replacement): Some people need partial or total joint replacements. Hips and knees are some of the most commonly replaced joints. Your provider or surgeon will tell you what to expect.



How can I keep my skeletal system healthy?

Following a diet and exercise plan that’s healthy for you will help you maintain your bone (and overall) health. Seeing a healthcare provider for regular checkups can also help catch any issues or symptoms that affect your skeletal system as soon as possible.

Follow these general safety tips to reduce your risk of an injury:

  • Always wear your seatbelt.
  • Wear the right protective equipment for all activities and sports.
  • Stretch, warm up and cool down before and after intense physical activity.
  • Make sure your home and workspace are free of clutter that could trip you or others.
  • Always use the proper tools or equipment at home to reach things. Never stand on chairs, tables or countertops.
  • Use a cane or walker if you have difficulty walking or have an increased risk of falls.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Your skeletal system is the framework that holds the rest of your body in place. You use your bones, muscles and connective tissue constantly, whether you’re a championship athlete or sitting on the bus reading this article on your phone.

Visit a healthcare provider if you notice new pain, stiffness or other symptoms. They’ll help you understand what’s causing your symptoms and how you can get back to your usual routine.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 01/10/2024.

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