Bone Classification – Anatomy and Physiology

Bone Classification 

The 206 bones that compose the adult skeleton are divided into five categories based on their shapes. Like other structure/function relationships in the body, their shapes and their functions are related such that each categorical shape of bone has a distinct function.

This illustration shows an anterior view of a human skeleton with call outs of five bones. The first call out is the sternum, or breast bone, which lies along the midline of the thorax. The sternum is the bone to which the ribs connect at the front of the body. It is classified as a flat bone and appears somewhat like a tie, with an enlarged upper section and a thin, tapering, lower section. The next callout is the right femur, which is the thigh bone. The inferior end of the femur is broad where it connects to the knee while the superior edge is ball-shaped where it attaches to the hip socket. The femur is an example of a long bone. The next callout is of the patella or kneecap. It is a small, wedge-shaped bone that sits on the anterior side of the knee. The kneecap is an example of a sesamoid bone. The next callout is a dorsal view of the right foot. The lateral, intermediate and medial cuneiform bones are small, square-shaped bones of the top of the foot. These bones lie between the proximal edge of the toe bones and the inferior edge of the shin bones. The lateral cuneiform is proximal to the fourth toe while the medial cuneiform is proximal to the great toe. The intermediate cuneiform lies between the lateral and medial cuneiform. These bones are examples of short bones. The fifth callout shows a superior view of one of the lumbar vertebrae. The vertebra has a kidney-shaped body connected to a triangle of bone that projects above the body of the vertebra. Two spines project off of the triangle at approximately 45 degree angles. The vertebrae are examples of irregular bones.
Classifications of Bones: Bones are classified according to their shape.

Long Bones

long bone is one that is cylindrical in shape, being longer than it is wide. Keep in mind, however, that the term describes the shape of a bone, not its size. Long bones are found in the upper limbs (humerus, ulna, radius) and lower limbs (femur, tibia, fibula), as well as in the hands (metacarpals, phalanges) and feet (metatarsals, phalanges). Long bones function as rigid bars that move when muscles contract.

Short Bones

short bone is one that is cube-like in shape, being approximately equal in length, width, and thickness. The only short bones in the human skeleton are in the carpals of the wrists and the tarsals of the ankles. Short bones provide stability and support as well as some limited motion.

Flat Bones

The term flat bone is somewhat of a misnomer because, although a flat bone is typically thin, it is also often curved. Examples include the cranial (skull) bones, the scapulae (shoulder blades), the sternum (breastbone), and the ribs. Flat bones serve as points of attachment for muscles and often protect internal organs.

Irregular Bones

An irregular bone is one that does not have any easily characterized shape and therefore does not fit any other classification. These bones tend to have more complex shapes, like the vertebrae that support the spinal cord and protect it from compressive forces. Many bones of the face, particularly the jaw bones that contain teeth, are classified as irregular bones.

Sesamoid Bones

sesamoid bone is a small, round bone that forms in tendons (sesamo- = “sesame” and -oid = “resembling”). Tendons are a dense connective tissue that connect bones to muscles and sesamoid bones form where a great deal of pressure is generated in a joint. The sesamoid bones protect tendons by helping them overcome excessive forces but also allow tendons and their attached muscles to be more effective. Sesamoid bones vary in number and placement from person to person but are typically found in tendons associated with the feet, hands, and knees. The patellae (singular = patella) are the only sesamoid bones found in common with every person.

Bone Classifications
Bone classificationFeaturesFunction(s)Examples
LongCylinder-like shape, longer than it is wideMovement, supportFemur, tibia, fibula, metatarsals, humerus, ulna, radius, metacarpals, phalanges
ShortCube-like shape, approximately equal in length, width, and thicknessProvide stability, support, while allowing for some motionCarpals, tarsals
FlatThin and curvedPoints of attachment for muscles; protectors of internal organsSternum, ribs, scapulae, cranial bones
IrregularComplex shapeProtect internal organs, movement, supportVertebrae, facial bones
SesamoidSmall and round; embedded in tendonsProtect tendons from excessive forces, allow effective muscle actionPatellae

Bottom Line

Bones can be classified according to their shapes. Long bones, such as the femur, are longer than they are wide. Short bones, such as the carpals, are approximately equal in length, width, and thickness. Flat bones are thin, but are often curved, such as the ribs. Irregular bones such as those of the face have no characteristic shape. Sesamoid bones, such as the patellae, are small and round, and are located in tendons.

Dr Rohit Bhaskar, Physio
Dr Rohit Bhaskar, Physio Dr. Rohit Bhaskar, Physio is Founder of Bhaskar Health and Physiotherapy and is also a consulting physiotherapist. He completed his Graduation in Physiotherapy from Uttar Pradesh University of Medical Sciences. His clinical interests are in Chest Physiotherapy, stroke rehab, parkinson’s and head injury rehab. Bhaskar Health is dedicated to readers, doctors, physiotherapists, nurses, paramedics, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals. Bhaskar Health audience is the reason I feel so passionate about this project, so thanks for reading and sharing Bhaskar Health.

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