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The Top 10 Structures that Move You

[read time ~4 minutes]

10. From your jaw to your big toe and a few hundred places in between, joints make it possible for movement to happen in your body. They are critical for active living: from eating and rushing out the door, to checking your blind spot while driving, lifting luggage, running to your gate at the airport, and even non-verbal communication--like putting in earbuds to signal a fellow passenger that you really aren’t interested in chatting. A joint is the place where movements in your body, such as rotating or hinging, occur. (There are some joints--like those in your skull--where movement does not occur, but for our purposes here, we’ll be talking about the joints that allow movement.)

9. A joint is where two bones come together. Bones come in many different shapes and sizes. And like the boards used in building the walls and roof of a house, bones are stiff to give your body its structure.

8. Inside of the joint, on the end of each bone, there is a layer of cartilage--a hard, slick substance (like ice) that decreases the friction between the bones. Like one ice cube sliding on another, movement between two adjacent layers of cartilage occurs very easily. And in addition to providing a smooth surface for motion, cartilage also provides shock absorption for its respective bone. Similar to a body guard protecting a very important person, cartilage often gets injured or damaged before a bone weakens or breaks.

7. Ligaments are tough cords of connective tissue that tie bones together. When they are healthy, they keep the joint stable by limiting excess motion. For example, there is a ligament on the inside of your knee (i.e., the medial collateral ligament or MCL) and one on the outside (i.e., the lateral collateral ligament or LCL). These two ligaments act like guide wires; they are part of the reason why your knee doesn’t deviate side-to-side as you bend and straighten it.

6. Muscles are the powerhouses for motion, and they are attached to bones via tendons.

5. Tendons are the tough strands of connective tissue that tie muscles to bones. When a muscle shortens, it pulls on its tendon which in turn pulls on the bone, creating movement at a joint. Bending your elbow or straightening your knee are both examples of this.

4. Cars need oil to lubricate the moving parts of the engine and to keep it running effortlessly. Similar to car oil, fluid inside joints provides lubrication for the two surfaces of cartilage. Healthy joint fluid is thick like the consistency of egg whites; this viscous quality helps it absorb shock. Shock absorption provided by the joint fluid protects the cartilage, while the cartilage protects the underlying bone.

3. The joint fluid is contained by a sturdy sac called the joint capsule that surrounds each joint. The joint capsule acts like a ligament, as it attaches to the bones on both sides of a joint, and to a small degree the joint capsule limits excessive movement.

2. A thin membrane/tissue lines the inside of the joint capsule-- kind of like plastic wrap. This joint lining secretes the joint fluid that lubricates each joint.

1. And the the final structure highlighted on this top 10 list is fascia. Fascia shrink wraps and supports the other nine structures as well as every organ in your body (your heart, lungs, liver, etc.). It is continuous throughout your body, so the fascia surrounding your Achilles tendon (on the back on your heel) is an extension of the fascia surrounding your brain. While its importance is often ignored, fascia is a critical component to movement. When the fascia surrounding a muscle is torn, the muscle cannot contract/tighten with the same strength. And even though bones get most of the credit for providing the framework for the human body, fascia is critical in creating the shape of our bodies, holding us together, and facilitating our active lives.

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