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Physiotherapists must have detailed knowledge about the anatomy of the musculoskeletal system that is relevant to clinical presentations and to the practice of physiotherapy. This section of Physiopedia is dedicated to provided detailed anatomical descriptions and their relationships to clinical practice.


Foundational Concepts

Bones & Joints

The complete human skeleton consists of 206 individual bones, which can be described as belonging to either a central (axial) or peripheral (appendicular) skeleton. The axial skeleton is comprised of 80 separate bones, including the skull, vertebral column, and rib cage and forms a central axis for the complete skeleton. The appendicular skeleton is comprised of 126 bones, including the bones of the upper and lower extremities which are joined (i.e. appended) to the axial skeleton via their associated girdles (pectoral for the upper and pelvic for the lower extremities).

Axial Skeleton

The most superior aspect of the axial skeleton is the skull, which can be further subdivided into the bones of the face and the flat bones of the calvarium. The primary function of the skull is to protect the soft tissue of the brain. The vertebral column, commonly refered to as the spine, is divided into cervical (7), thoracic (12), lumbar (5), sacral (5), and coccygeal (4) regions. The vertebrae found within each region have unique characteristics based of the movements performed at each region (described in regional anatomy below). When viewed from the sides, several curvatures are visible in the adult vertebral column. A curvature that is concave anteriorly is described as a kyphosis (or flexion clinically), whereas a curvature that is concave posteriorly is described as a lordosis (or extension clinically). Typically the vertebral column is kyphotic at the thoracic and sacral regions and lordotic at the cervical and lumbar regions. Excessive pathologic curavature may devlope in the kyphotic or lordotic regions and an excessive lateral deviation, as viewed from the posterior, is referred to as a scoliosis. At birth, the vertebral column primarily kyphotic or 'flexed' and meeting certain developmental milestones the lordotic 'extended' curvatues are formed at the cervical (supporting the weight of the head) and lumbar (supporting the weight of the body) regions. The lordotic curvatures are also referred to as secondary curvatures due to the timing of their formation.

Appendicular Skeleton

Regional Anatomy














The Knee

Learn about the knee in this month's members learn topic with book chapters including D. Magee 2014: Orthopedic Physical Assessment

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