Studying the skeletal system is often ignored in favour of learning the muscles. However, without knowledge of the skeletal system it will be a struggle to learn the joints and the origins and insertions of the muscles. Any standard text book will give the student sufficient knowledge of bone makeup and function. My purpose here is to give students an easier way of remembering the human skeleton and the bone groups.

The body and all of its structures are named by location, size, shape or action and usually done so in Greek or Latin. Through even my poor grasp of ancient language, I have retained the information infinitely better than trying to memorise everything, so maybe it will help you too (see below)! 

Watch out for the same area having two different names, as one has a Latin root and the other is Greek – confusing I know!

A full list would be impracticably enormous, so I have focused on the ones you will see on anatomy charts and will most likely be tested on. 

Name Meaning
Acromioclavicular joint AC Joint, Acromion and clavicle
Acromion process Acros=highest, ōmos=shoulder, process=outgrowth
Capitis Head
Carpals Wrist
Cervical Cervix=neck/narrowing
Clavicle Small key, suggesting it locks the arm to the body
Coccyx Cuckoo, apparently it is the same shape as the beak
Coracoid process Corvas=raven, oid=resembles, process=outgrowth.
Craniomandibular joint CMJ cranium=skull, mandibular=jaw
Cruciate ligament Crux=cross, but could also refer to crus=leg, ligament/ligure=to bind
Femur Thigh, anatomically the thigh is the top half and the leg starts from below the knee
Fibula Pin (Latin)
Forearm Fore=before/in front of
Frontal bone Come on…
Glenohumeral joint (GH Joint) Glen=shallow, umeral=arm.
Glenoid fossa Glen=shallow, oid=resembles, fossa=ditch
Hallux Big toe
Humerus Umeral=arm. Because of the sensation of hitting this area we then get humerus or funny bone
Iliium Flank bone
Ischium Hip joint
Kyphotic Kyphos=bent forward/ hunchback
Lateral collateral ligament Lateral=side, col=together with, lateral=side or parallel, ligament=to bind
Lateral condyle Lateral=side, condyle=knuckle/knob
Lateral malleolus Lateral=side,
Ligament To bind
Lordotic Lordos=bent backwards
Lumbar Lumbar=loin
Mandible Mandere=to chew
Mastoid Mastos=breast (Greek), oid=resembles. I can’t see it myself..
Maxilla Jaw
Medial collateral ligament Medial=middle, col=together with, lateral=side/parellel, ligament=to bind
Medial condyle Medial=middle, condyle=knuckle/knob
Medial malleolus Medial=middle, malleus=mallet/ hammer
Meniscus Mene=moon/ meniskos=cresent (Greek)
Metacarpals Meta=beyond, carpals=wrist
Metatarsals (beyond the ankle) Meta=beyond, tarsals=ankle
Nasal Nose
Occipital Occipit=back of the head
Pelvis Basin
Osteon Bone (Greek)
Patella Pan / dish, your knee cap
Phalanges Phalanx=tightly formed military position
pollicaris pollic=thumb
Popliteal fossa Poplit=ham, fossa=ditch
Pubic symphysis Pubis=bone of the groin ,symphysis=growing together
Radius Spoke
Retinaculum To retain
Sacrum Sacred (Os sacrum= the holy bone)
Scapula Shoulder blade
Scoliosis Twisting
Sternum Breast bone
Talus Ankle
Tarsal Flat of the foot
Thoracic Thorax=chest area,
Tibia Flute/Shin
Ulna Elbow (Latin)
Zygomatic Zygoma=yoke/pair/arch, so bony arch of the cheek


The bones of the Wrist

Name Meaning
1:Scaphoid Scaph=bowl/boat (Greek), oid=resembles
2:Lunate Luna=moon/ lunate=cresent moon (Latin)
3:Triquetrum Triquetr=triangle (Latin)
4:Pisiform Pis=pea, form=shaped
5:Trapezium Trapeza=table, has a deeper grove than the next bone which accommodates the thumb
6:Trapezoid Trapeza=table, oid=resembles
7:Capitate Having a head describing the rounded portion of this large central bone
8:Hamate Hook shaped
These can be remembered by the first letter of each bone using the mnemonic:

Some Lovers Try Positions That They Cannot Handle

Prone right hand

Proximal row 1-4

Distal row 5-8


Ankle and foot bones

Name Meaning
Talus Ankle
Calcaneus Chalk, maybe because this bone resembles chalk
Navicular Navi=ship/navy (Latin)
Medial Cuneiform Medial=middle, cunei=wedge, form=shape
Inferior Cuneiform Inferior=below, cunei=wedge, form=shape
Lateral cuneiform Lateral=side, cunei=wedge, form=shape
Cuboid Cub=cube,oid=resembles
The order can be remembered on the right foot, superior to inferior, medial to lateral using the first letter of each bone with the mnemonic Tiger Cubs Need MILC


The axial skeleton

This grouping consists of around 80 bones. The important ones to remember are the skull (and its various fixed bones), the hyoid, clavicle, rib cage, sternum, vertebral column, including the sacrococcygeal region (but not the rest of the pelvis).


The vertebral/ spinal column

We have 33 vertebrae (excluding the odd outlier), including 24 moveable or presacral vertebrae. In turn these consist of the seven cervical, twelve thoracic and five lumbar vertebrae (think breakfast at 7, lunch at 12 and dinner at 5).

We then also have the sacrococcygeal region which has five fused sacral vertebrae and for fused coccyx bones (or tailbone).

Confusingly some courses only count the 24 moveable vertebrae as the spine and the rest is called the ‘pelvis’. Some only partially acknowledge the sacroccygeal region and say the sacrum counts as one vertebrae and the coccyx as another giving us 26 vertebrae. 

So the answer in an exam to ‘how many vertebrae are there?’ Will range from 24,26 or 33 depending what the course chooses to teach. Be warned, I have seen some course material differ from the expected exam answers!


Romancing the bone

There is a difference between movement and motion-movement is the wanted action and motion is the involuntary result of it. This goes a little beyond what is taught during the average fitness qualification, but is very much worth being aware (read on!).

Usually we are taught about the various joints: plane, hinge, pivot, saddle, condyloid and ball and socket. We also learn about planes of movement that refer back to our basic anatomical position (mentioned in the previous post here)  and the different ways we can move: flexion, extension, rotation and so on. There are plenty of resources to see examples of all these, but that is where the usual lessons stop and this section begins.

These movements of the body are also known as ‘osteokinetic movements’-they describe the movement we see. What is less commonly explained is joint motion or arthokinematic motion. It is less visible if at all but can sometimes be felt.

Regardless of joint type, one adjoining surface will concave and the other convex. When one surface moves, it will create spin (which we can largely ignore), roll and glide. Whichever of the surfaces is moving does not alter the osteokinetic movement, but will change the arthokinematic motion i.e. which direction the roll or glide occurs. This is called the convex-concave rule.

This rule means a concave surface moves in the same direction as the motion whilst a convex surface will move in the opposite direction. In either case the glide will occur in the opposite direction. Why is this important?

Let us consider the knee’s tibiofemoral joint. Here the femur is the convex surface and the adjoining tibia surface is concave. During a leg extension, the femur is fixed so the convex surface will roll and glide in the same direction, meaning the points of contact will be constantly changing, like a wheel-spin. Now during a squat, we still get extension of the knee, but here tibia is the fixed joint so the convex surface of the femur will roll and glide in opposite directions as though it was a paint-roller going over a wall. Much less friction, even though the joint movement is the same.

For anyone doing manipulative therapy this stuff is essential, but for trainers you may have a client who finds one exercise causes discomfort. By applying your understanding of the preceding paragraphs, rather than skipping the body part or randomly trying different exercises, you can make more educated guesses on legitimate alternatives.


Joint end ranges

A joint can hit two sorts of end ranges: one in a close packed position and the other extreme is in a loose or open packed position.

The closed packed position is where all the bones in a joint fit precisely together and where there is maximal contact between the articulating surfaces. The ligaments are taut and twisted and no further movement is possible. This position is the final limiting position of the joint. Anything beyond this point leaves the joint liable to traumatic damage.

In an open packed position there is the least friction between articulating surfaces which allows more movement (including rolling, spinning and gliding). The maximum open packed position is the position in which the capsule and the ligaments are most lax and separation of joint surfaces is greatest and the chance of injury at its highest.

This is good to know if you are trying to take a client into a stretch or you are trying to perform a joint manipulation. It gives a way to ‘lock off’ sympathetic body parts when trying to zero in on one joint or muscle group. Joint angles and body positions influence the range (and quality) of movement. There will be a pathological end range to a joint, i.e. its true anatomical limit. But, from certain positions an artificial end range can occur-an active end range but still within the joints limits. The distance between the two is a buffer between allowable movement and injury where joint manipulations are meant to occur, which is sometimes called the ‘paraphysiological’ space.

I hope you have found this useful. In the next section we are going to look at the muscular system, particularly how to remember the individual muscles and groups of muscles.