The Core of Movement: Understanding the Axial Skeleton

The human body is an intricate and fascinating piece of machinery. It has been said that it is the ultimate machine, with its various parts working together in harmony to produce movement, thought, and sensation. One of the most important parts of the human body, responsible for support and movement, is the axial skeleton. In this article, we will look at what the axial skeleton is, its components, functions, and how it works.

An Overview of the Axial Skeleton

The axial skeleton is the core of the human skeleton system. It is made up of bones that are placed along the midline of the body. The axial skeleton consists of the skull, vertebral column, ribs, and sternum. These bones serve as the basic framework and support system for the human body. The bones of the axial skeleton offer protection to the vital organs, including the brain, spinal cord, and heart.

Components of the Axial Skeleton


The skull is a complex structure that consists of 22 bones. The bones make up the cranial bones and the facial bones. The cranial bones protect the brain, while the facial bones protect the delicate sensory organs like the eyes, nose, and mouth.

Vertebral Column

The vertebral column, also known as the spine, is a long chain of bones that runs from the skull all the way to the pelvis. It is composed of 33 vertebrae that are divided into five regions, the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral, and coccygeal regions. The vertebral column provides structural support, flexibility, and protects the spinal cord.


The ribs are a set of 24 bony structures that are connected to the vertebral column at the back and the sternum in front. The ribs serve as a protective structure to the organs in the thorax, and they also aid in respiration. The first seven pairs of ribs are connected directly to the sternum by cartilage, and are called the true ribs, while the next five pairs are connected indirectly to the sternum and are called the false ribs. The last two pairs of ribs are floating ribs, that are not connected to the sternum at all.


The sternum, also known as the breastbone, is a long, flat bone that connects the ribs in front of the thoracic cavity. It is made up of three parts: the manubrium, the body, and the xiphoid process. The sternum serves as an anchor point for muscles and acts as a protective barrier for the heart and lungs.

Functions of the Axial Skeleton

Protection of the Vital Organs

The axial skeleton provides complete protection to the vital organs in the thoracic and cranial cavities. The skull, for example, protects the brain from external duress, while the vertebral column shields the spinal cord from injury. The ribs, on the other hand, guard the lungs and heart from trauma.

Aids in Movement

Although the axial skeleton provides support, it is not rigid. It allows for movement, both of the body as well as the limbs. The bones of the axial skeleton are connected to muscles, enabling the contraction and relaxation of muscle fibers. The vertebral column also provides great flexibility, allowing for a range of body movements, such as twisting, bending, and turning.

Provides Structure and Support

The axial skeleton provides the basic framework for the human body. It gives the body structure and support. The skeletal system supports the body’s weight and serves as the point for attachment of various muscles in the body. It also maintains the body’s position and maintains balance, preventing us from falling over.

How the Axial Skeleton Works

For the axial skeleton to work efficiently, all of its components must be in optimal condition. Distortions or malformations in the bones or their connecting joints and cartilage, as well as issues with the supporting soft tissue, muscles, and ligaments that surround it, can lead to problems in movement or pain. For instance, a misaligned spinal cord can result in lower back pain or even lumbar herniation. Since the axial skeleton is the foundation upon which the rest of the body depends, it is essential to keep it healthy and functional.

Common Conditions Affecting the Axial Skeleton


Scoliosis is a lateral (sideway) curve of the spine that is generally characterized by a deviation of ten degrees or more.


Osteoporosis is a condition marked by the weakening and thinning of bones, making them fragile and more susceptible to fractures.


Kyphosis is a condition that causes a hunchback-like appearance. It can happen due to osteoporosis, arthritis, or genetics.

Skull fractures

A skull fracture occurs when there is a break in the cranial bone that protects the brain. It happens mostly due to accidents or falls.

Best Practices for Maintaining a Healthy Axial Skeleton

Maintaining a healthy axial skeleton is essential to your overall health and wellness. Here are a few steps to take to keep it healthy:

  • Exercise regularly to strengthen the muscles and keep them flexible.
  • Ensure that you maintain a healthy diet with enough calcium and vitamin D, especially during the early stages of your life to promote bone growth and development.
  • When lifting heavy objects, remember to use your legs instead of your back.
  • If you work long hours seated, ensure that you maintain good posture and take frequent breaks to stand and stretch.
  • Quit smoking, as it interferes with the bone’s natural building process.
  • Know and take the necessary precautions to prevent and manage spinal conditions such as herniated discs, scoliosis, and arthritis.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Axial Skeleton

Below are the most frequently asked questions and answers related to the axial skeleton:

  • Q: What animal has the same axial skeleton as humans?

    A: Primates, like monkeys, gorillas, and apes, have the same axial skeleton structure as humans.
  • Q: How many bones are in the axial skeleton?

    A: The axial skeleton is made up of 80 bones in total, including the skull, vertebral column, ribs, and sternum.
  • Q: What is the function of the axial skeleton?

    A: The axial skeleton has three main functions that include providing protection, support, and aiding in movement.
  • Q: What is the difference between the true ribs and false ribs?

    A: The first seven pairs of ribs are called true ribs, as they connect directly to the sternum with cartilage. The next five pairs of ribs are called false ribs because they connect indirectly to the sternum through the cartilage of the rib above them. The last two pairs of ribs, which are not connected to the sternum at all, are called floating ribs.
  • Q: What conditions can affect the axial skeleton?

    A: The axial skeleton can be affected by conditions like osteoporosis, scoliosis, kyphosis, and fractures.


The axial skeleton is an essential and intricate part of the human body. Without it, the body would lack the basic framework, support system, and stability that it needs. By understanding the axial skeleton, its components, functions, and how to maintain it, we can appreciate and take better care of this crucial and often overlooked part of our bodies.


  • Cervellin G, Comelli I, Lippi G. Is axial skeleton X-ray imaging still helpful in the emergency department? World J Radiol. 2015;7(5):53-58.
  • Coury Junior HJCG, Rohling RN, Paludetti GS. Spinal ultrasound versus magnetic resonance imaging in assessment of the axial skeleton in idiopathic scoliosis. Clinics (Sao Paulo). 2019;74:e843.
  • Crawford RJ, Fillmore HL, Elliot J. The axial skeleton of Limulus. 1. The anterior four cephalothoracic somites. J Morphol. 2016;277(3):311-344.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *