Types of Joints in the Body

Hip and Knee Joints

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Bones come together at places in the body called joints, which enable us to move our bodies in different ways.

Key Takeaways: Joints

  • Joints are locations in the body where bones meet. They enable movement and are classified by either their structure or function.
  • Structural classifications of joints include fibrous, cartilaginous, and synovial joints.
  • Functional classifications of joints include immovable, slightly movable, and freely movable joints.
  • Freely movable (synovial) joints are most abundant and include six types: pivot, hinge, condyloid, saddle, plane, and ball-and-socket joints.

There are three types of joints in the body. Synovial joints are freely movable and allow for motion at the location where bones meet. They provide a wide range of motion and flexibility. Other joints provide more stability and less flexibility. Bones at cartilaginous joints connected by cartilage and are slightly movable. Bones at fibrous joints are immovable and connected by fibrous connective tissue.

Joints can be classified by either their structure or function. Structural classifications are based on how the bones at joints are connected. Fibrous, synovial, and cartilaginous are structural classifications of joints.

Classifications based on joint function consider how movable bones are at joint locations. These classifications include immovable (synarthrosis), slightly movable (amphiarthrosis), and freely movable (diarthrosis) joints.

Immovable (Fibrous) Joints

Skull Sutures
Fibrous joints hold skull bones together to protect the brain. Places where joints unite bone appear as "squiggly" lines in the skull. Leonello Calvetti/Stocktrek Images/Getty Images

Immovable or fibrous joints are those that do not allow movement (or allow for only very slight movement) at joint locations. Bones at these joints have no joint cavity and are held together structurally by thick fibrous connective tissue, usually collagen. These joints are important for stability and protection. There are three types of immovable joints: sutures, syndesmosis, and gomphosis.

  • Sutures: These narrow fibrous joints connect bones of the skull (excluding the jaw bone). In adults, the bones are held tightly together to protect the brain and help shape the face. In newborns and infants, bones at these joints are separated by a larger area of connective tissue and are more flexible. Overtime, cranial bones fuse together providing more stability and protection for the brain.
  • Syndesmosis: This type of fibrous joint connects two bones that are relatively far apart. The bones are linked by ligaments or a thick membrane (interosseous membrane). A syndesmosis can be found between the bones of the forearm (ulna and radius) and between the two long bones of the lower leg (tibia and fibula).
  • Gomphosis: This type of fibrous joint holds a tooth in place in its socket in the upper and lower jaw. A gomphosis is an exception to the rule that joints connect bone to bone, as it connects teeth to bone. This specialized joint is also called a peg and socket joint and allows for limited to no movement.

    Slightly Movable (Cartilaginous) Joints

    Lumbar Vertebrae and Joints
    Intervertebral discs are cartilaginous joints, composed of thick fibrocartilage, that support bones while allowing limited movement. MedicalRF.com/Getty Images

    Slightly movable joints permit some movement but provide less stability than immovable joints. These joints can be structurally classified as cartilaginous joints, as bones are connected by cartilage at the joints. Cartilage is a tough, elastic connective tissue that helps to reduce friction between bones. Two types of cartilage may be found at cartilaginous joints: hyaline cartilage and fibrocartilage. Hyaline cartilage is very flexible and elastic, while fibrocartilage is stronger and less flexible.

    Cartilaginous joints formed with hyaline cartilage can be found between certain bones of the rib cage. Intervertebral discs located between spinal vertebrae are examples of slightly movable joints composed of fibrocartilage. Fibrocartilage provides support for bones while allowing for limited movement. These are important functions as it relates to the spinal column as spinal vertebrae help to protect the spinal cord. The pubic symphysis (connects the right and left hip bones) is another example of a cartilaginous joint that unites bones with fibrocartilage. The pubic symphysis helps to support and stabilize the pelvis.

    Freely Movable (Synovial) Joints

    Synovial Joint
    This is an illustration of the structure of a synovial joint. These joints are freely movable and provide the greatest degree of mobility. OpenStax, Anatomy & Physiology/Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

    Freely movable joints are classified structurally as synovial joints. Unlike fibrous and cartilaginous joints, synovial joints have a joint cavity (fluid-filled space) between connecting bones. Synovial joints allow for greater mobility but are less stable than fibrous and cartilaginous joints. Examples of synovial joints include joints in the wrist, elbow, knees, shoulders, and hip.

    Three main structural components are found in all synovial joints and include a synovial cavity, articular capsule, and articular cartilage.

    • Synovial Cavity: This space between adjacent bones is filled with synovial fluid and is where bones can move freely in relation to each another. Synovial fluid helps to prevent friction between bones.
    • Articular Capsule: Composed of fibrous connective tissue, this capsule surrounds the joint and connects to adjacent bones. The inner layer of the capsule is lined with a synovial membrane that produces the thick synovial fluid.
    • Articular Cartilage: Within the articular capsule, the rounded ends of adjacent bones are covered with smooth articular (relating to joints) cartilage composed of hyaline cartilage. Articular cartilage absorbs shock and provides a smooth surface for fluent movements.

    Additionally, bones at synovial joints may be supported by structures outside of the joint such as ligaments, tendons, and bursae (fluid-filled sacs that reduce friction between supporting structures at joints).

    Types of Synovial Joints

    Synovial Joint Types
    This illustration shows examples of different types of synovial joints and their locations in the body. OpenStax, Anatomy & Physiology/Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

    Synovial joints allow for a number of different types of body movements. There are six types of synovial joints found at different locations in the body.

    • Pivot Joint: This joint permits rotational movement around a single axis. One bone is encircled by a ring formed by the other bone at the joint and a ligament. The bone that pivots may either rotate within the ring or the ring may rotate around the bone. The joint between the first and second cervical vertebrae near the base of the skull is an example of a pivot joint. It allows the head to turn from side to side.
    • Hinge Joint: This joint permits bending and straitening movements along one plane. Similar to a door hinge, movement is limited to a single direction. Examples of hinge joints include the elbow, knee, ankle, and joints between the bones of the fingers and toes.
    • Condyloid Joint: Several different types of movements are allowed by this type of joint including bending and straightening, side-to-side, and circular movements. One of the bones has an oval-shaped, or convex end (male surface) that fits into the depressed oval-shaped, or concave end (female surface) of another bone. This type of joint can be found between the radius bone of the forearm and bones of the wrist.
    • Saddle Joint: These distinct joints are very flexible, allowing for bending and straightening, side-to-side, and circular movements. The bones at these joints form what look like a rider on a saddle. One bone is turned inward at one end, while the other is turned outward. An example of a saddle joint is the thumb joint between the thumb and palm.
    • Plane Joint: Bones at this type of joint slide past each other in a gliding motion. The bones at plane joints are of similar size and the surfaces where the bones meet at the joint are nearly flat. These joints can be found between bones of the wrist and foot, as well as between the collar bone and shoulder blade.
    • Ball-and-Socket Joint: These joints allow the greatest degree of motion permitting bending and straitening, side-to-side, circular, and rotational movement. The end of one bone at this type of joint is rounded (ball) and fits into the cupped end (socket) of another bone. The hip and shoulder joints are examples of ball-and-socket joints.

      Each of the different types of synovial joints allow for specialized movements that permit different degrees of motion. They may allow movement in a single direction only or movement along multiple planes depending on the type of joint. The range of motion of a joint is therefore limited by the type of joint and by its supporting ligaments and muscles.

      Sources

      • Betts, J. Gordon, et al. Anatomy & Physiology. OpenStax College, Rice University, 2017.
      • Chen, Hao, et al. "Heads, Shoulders, Elbows, Knees, and Toes: Modular Gdf5 Enhancers Control Different Joints in the Vertebrate Skeleton." PLOS Genetics, vol. 12, no. 11, 2016, doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1006454.