What Holds Bones Together at Joints: The Ultimate Guide

Our bones are held together by joints, which allow us to move and perform various activities. The joints are essential for our movements, and each joint has its unique structure and composition.

In this ultimate guide, we will explore the details of what holds bones together at joints, including the types of joints, bones, and connective tissues.

Anatomy of Joints

All joints are made up of three components: bones, ligaments, and cartilage.


The bones of joints are the structures that form the framework of our bodies. They are the hard, lumpy structures that support and protect our body organs, create the structure for our muscles, and allow movement to take place. The bones are divided into two types: long bones and short bones.

Long bones are those that are longer than they are wide, like the femur in the thigh, humerus in the arm, or tibia in the leg. On the other hand, short bones are those that are roughly equal in their length and width, like the bones in the wrist and ankle.


The ligaments are fibrous tissues that connect the bones to the bones. They are strong, flexible, and inelastic, which allows them to stretch, twist and turn with the movement of the body. They are essential in keeping the bones in place, ensuring stability, and preventing dislocation.


Cartilage is a type of dense connective tissue found in joints providing cushioning, support, and movement. They are made up of specialized cells called chondrocytes, which produce collagen and elastin, two proteins that make up cartilage. There are two types of cartilage: articular cartilage and fibrocartilage.

  • Articular cartilage is a smooth, white cover on the ends of bones. Its function is to provide a low-friction surface so that bones can glide easily over each other.
  • Fibrocartilage is a tough, hard, and dense substance found in the knee joint and between the vertebrae. It acts as a shock absorber, reducing the impact of forces and pressure on the cartilage.

The Types of Joints

There are three types of joints in our bodies: fibrous, cartilaginous, and synovial.

Fibrous Joints

Fibrous joints are bones held by a layer of connective tissue like fibers. They have no joint cavity and are immovable. Examples of Fibrous joints are sutures between skull bones and teeth in sockets.

Cartilaginous Joints

Cartilaginous joints are the connection between the bones via a flexible and tough type of cartilage. They have no joint cavity, but a layer of cartilage between bones allows limited mobility. Examples: joints between vertebrae of spine, between the ribs and breastbone.

Synovial Joints

Synovial joints are movable joints containing articular cartilage on the ends of bones, a joint capsule holding the bones together, and a synovial membrane. The synovial membrane secretes synovial fluid; a viscous liquid that lubricates the joint, reducing friction and wear and tear. Examples of synovial joints include the shoulders, elbows, wrist, hips, knees, and ankles.

The Ligaments that Hold Bones Together at Joints

The ligaments are essential in joint anatomy, providing stability and mobility. They hold the bones together, allowing bones to move within a defined range of motion. There are four types of ligaments:

Capsular Ligaments

Capsular ligaments help in keeping the bones together within the joint capsule. They are highly elastic, thereby allowing movement of the joint in different directions. They are the most robust ligaments of the joint due to their significant tensile strength.

Extracapsular Ligaments

Extracapsular ligaments provide the joint with additional support by connecting the bones outside the joint capsule. They are stronger and thicker ligaments that restrict the range of motion and stabilize the joint bones.

Intracapsular Ligaments

Intracapsular ligaments are highly specialized ligaments found inside the joint capsule that helps hold the bones together. They’re weaker and subjected to tears and damage when subjected to extreme pressure.

Accessory Ligaments

Accessory ligaments play lesser roles in joint stabilization, but they assist in the movement of the joint in specific directions. They are the least strong of all ligaments and sometimes referred to as secondary ligaments.

What Happens When Ligaments are Injured?

Injuries to ligaments can cause considerable pain, swelling, and instability. Common injuries occur in the joint’s anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), medial collateral ligament (MCL), and lateral collateral ligament (LCL). A physical therapist can work with an individual to create an exercise program for them to regain optimal joint function during the healing period.

ACL Injuries

The ACL is an essential ligament for the knee joint, which provides stability and support to the knee. ACL injuries are common among athletes who engage in activities such as football, basketball, and soccer.

Symptoms of an ACL injury include pain, swelling, instability, popping or a “popping sound,” and limited movement. Treatment options vary depending on the severity of the injury but may include rest, physical therapy, bracing, and surgery in severe cases.

MCL Injuries

The MCL is a ligament that runs along the inside of the knee joint, providing stability to the joint. An MCL injury is common among athletes involved in activities like football, rugby, and skiing.

Symptoms of an MCL injury include pain, swelling, and difficulty bending or straightening the knee. Treatment options include immobilization, physical therapy, and surgery in severe cases.

LCL Injuries

The LCL is a ligament that runs along the outside of the knee joint, providing stability to the joint. LCL injuries are common among athletes involved in activities like soccer, gymnastics, and skiing.

Symptoms of an LCL injury include pain, swelling, and stiffness, and instability. Treatment options include rest, immobilization, physical therapy, and surgery in severe cases.

The Role of Cartilage in Joint Stability

Cartilage is a critical component of joint anatomy; it provides cushioning, acts as a shock absorber, and helps maintain joint stability. Damage to cartilage can lead to joint pain, swelling, stiffness, and reduced mobility.

Articular cartilage covers the ends of bones in synovial joints and provides a smooth surface that allows for movement without resistance. Articular cartilage is responsible for the smooth gliding of the bones and reducing friction that can cause wear and tear.

Cartilage Damage

Cartilage damage can be caused by various factors, including aging, wear and tear, injury, and genetic factors. Symptoms of cartilage damage include pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. If left untreated, cartilage damage can lead to more severe joint problems such as arthritis.

Treatments for Cartilage Damage

Treatment options for cartilage damage vary depending on the severity of the condition. Mild cases may improve with rest, physical therapy, and medication. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary, and doctors may recommend procedures like cartilage repair or joint replacement.


Understanding what holds bones together at joints is essential for maintaining optimal joint function, mobility, and overall health. The anatomy of joints, including bones, ligaments, and cartilage, plays a critical role in joint stability and mobility. When joint injuries and cartilage damage occur, early intervention, and a comprehensive treatment plan are essential for optimal recovery and future joint health.


Here are the most common questions and their answers related to the topic:

  • What is a Joint?
  • A joint is an area where two or more bones meet.

  • What are the types of joints?
  • The types of joints include synovial joints, cartilaginous joints, and fibrous joints.

  • What is a ligament?
  • A ligament is a fibrous tissue that connects bones to other bones.

  • What is cartilage?
  • Cartilage is a dense connective tissue found in joints providing cushioning, support, and movement.

  • What causes cartilage damage?
  • Cartilage damage can be caused by aging, wear and tear, injury, and genetic factors.


  • Austin, J. M., & Stoll, T. (2020). Concise anatomic atlas of synovial joints: An easy-to-follow reference, guide or textbook. JAAOS-Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 28(15), 601-601.
  • Buchanan, C. C., & Varacallo, M. (2020). Anatomy, Joints. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing.
  • Treede, R. D., Rief, W., Barke, A., Aziz, Q., Bennett, M. I., Benoliel, R., … & Cohen, M. (2019). A classification of chronic pain for ICD-11. Pain, 160(1), 71-76.

Leave a Reply

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