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Diagram of a typical synovial joint
SystemMusculoskeletal system
Articular system
Anatomical terminology

A joint or articulation (or articular surface) is the connection made between bones, ossicles, or other hard structures in the body which link an animal's skeletal system into a functional whole.[1][2][3] They are constructed to allow for different degrees and types of movement. Some joints, such as the knee, elbow, and shoulder, are self-lubricating, almost frictionless, and are able to withstand compression and maintain heavy loads while still executing smooth and precise movements.[3] Other joints such as sutures between the bones of the skull permit very little movement (only during birth) in order to protect the brain and the sense organs.[3] The connection between a tooth and the jawbone is also called a joint, and is described as a fibrous joint known as a gomphosis. Joints are classified both structurally and functionally.[4]


The number of joints depends on if sesamoids are included, age of the human and the definition of joints. However, the number of sesamoids is the same in most people with variations being rare.[5][6][7]

Joints are mainly classified structurally and functionally. Structural classification is determined by how the bones connect to each other, while functional classification is determined by the degree of movement between the articulating bones. In practice, there is significant overlap between the two types of classifications.

Clinical, numerical classification[edit]

  • monoarticular – concerning one joint
  • oligoarticular or pauciarticular – concerning 2–4 joints
  • polyarticular – concerning 5 or more joints

Structural classification (binding tissue)[edit]

Types of joints based upon their structure (L to R): cartilaginous joint, fibrous joint, and synovial joint.

Structural classification names and divides joints according to the type of binding tissue that connects the bones to each other.[1] There are four structural classifications of joints:[8]

Functional classification (movement)[edit]

Joints can also be classified functionally according to the type and degree of movement they allow:[1][12] Joint movements are described with reference to the basic anatomical planes.[3]

Joints can also be classified, according to the number of axes of movement they allow, into nonaxial (gliding, as between the proximal ends of the ulna and radius), monoaxial (uniaxial), biaxial and multiaxial.[17] Another classification is according to the degrees of freedom allowed, and distinguished between joints with one, two or three degrees of freedom.[17] A further classification is according to the number and shapes of the articular surfaces: flat, concave and convex surfaces.[17] Types of articular surfaces include trochlear surfaces.[18]

Biomechanical classification[edit]

Joints can also be classified based on their anatomy or on their biomechanical properties. According to the anatomic classification, joints are subdivided into simple and compound, depending on the number of bones involved, and into complex and combination joints:[19]

  1. Simple joint: two articulation surfaces (e.g. shoulder joint, hip joint)
  2. Compound joint: three or more articulation surfaces (e.g. radiocarpal joint)
  3. Complex joint: two or more articulation surfaces and an articular disc or meniscus (e.g. knee joint)


Joints of the human body

The joints may be classified anatomically into the following groups:

  1. Joints of hand
  2. Elbow joints
  3. Wrist joints
  4. Axillary joints
  5. Sternoclavicular joints
  6. Vertebral articulations
  7. Temporomandibular joints
  8. Sacroiliac joints
  9. Hip joints
  10. Knee joints
  11. Articulations of foot

Unmyelinated nerve fibers are abundant in joint capsules and ligaments, as well as in the outer part of intra-articular menisci. These nerve fibers are responsible for pain perception when a joint is strained.[20]

Clinical significance[edit]

Damaging the cartilage of joints (articular cartilage) or the bones and muscles that stabilize the joints can lead to joint dislocations and osteoarthritis. Swimming is a great way to exercise the joints with minimal damage.[3]

A joint disorder is termed arthropathy, and when involving inflammation of one or more joints the disorder is called arthritis. Most joint disorders involve arthritis, but joint damage by external physical trauma is typically not termed arthritis.

Arthropathies are called polyarticular (multiarticular) when involving many joints and monoarticular when involving only a single joint.

Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in people over the age of 55. There are many different forms of arthritis, each of which has a different cause. The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis (also known as degenerative joint disease), occurs following trauma to the joint, following an infection of the joint or simply as a result of aging and the deterioration of articular cartilage. Furthermore, there is emerging evidence that abnormal anatomy may contribute to early development of osteoarthritis. Other forms of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis, which are autoimmune diseases in which the body is attacking itself. Septic arthritis is caused by joint infection. Gouty arthritis is caused by deposition of uric acid crystals in the joint that results in subsequent inflammation. Additionally, there is a less common form of gout that is caused by the formation of rhomboidal-shaped crystals of calcium pyrophosphate. This form of gout is known as pseudogout.

Temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ) involves the jaw joints and can cause facial pain, clicking sounds in the jaw, or limitation of jaw movement, to name a few symptoms. It is caused by psychological tension and misalignment of the jaw (malocclusion), and may be affecting as many as 75 million Americans.[3]



The English word joint is a past participle of the verb join, and can be read as joined.[21] Joint is derived from Latin iunctus,[21] past participle of the Latin verb iungere, join, unite, connect, attach.[22]

The English term articulation is derived from Latin articulatio.[21]

Humans have also developed lighter, more fragile joint bones over time due to the decrease in physical activity compared to thousands of years ago.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Whiting, William Charles; Rugg, Stuart (2006). Dynamic Human Anatomy. Vol. 10. Human Kinetics. p. 40. ISBN 9780736036825.
  2. ^ "Articulation definition". eMedicine Dictionary. 30 October 2013. Archived from the original on 31 July 2012. Retrieved 18 November 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Saladin, Ken. Anatomy & Physiology. 7th ed. McGraw-Hill Connect. Web. p.274
  4. ^ Standring, Susan (2006). Gray's anatomy : the anatomical basis of clinical practice (39th ed.). Edinburgh: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone. p. 38. ISBN 0-443-07168-3.
  5. ^ Wood, V. E. (October 1984). "The sesamoid bones of the hand and their pathology". Journal of Hand Surgery (Edinburgh, Scotland). 9 (3): 261–264. doi:10.1016/0266-7681(84)90038-x. ISSN 0266-7681. PMID 6512360. S2CID 72038079.
  6. ^ "Sesamoid Injuries in the Foot – Sesamoiditis Foot | Foot Health Facts - Foot Health Facts". Retrieved 2021-07-04.
  7. ^ Chen, Wei; Cheng, Jiaxiang; Sun, Ran; Zhang, Zekun; Zhu, Yanbin; Ipaktchi, Kyros; Zhang, Yingze (2015-07-15). "Prevalence and variation of sesamoid bones in the hand: a multi-center radiographic study". International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine. 8 (7): 11721–11726. ISSN 1940-5901. PMC 4565393. PMID 26380010.
  8. ^ "Introduction to Joints (3) – Joints – Classification by Tissue Joining Bones". Archived from the original on 2011-06-08. Retrieved 2008-01-29.
  9. ^ a b Principles of Anatomy & Physiology, 12th Edition, Tortora & Derrickson, Pub: Wiley & Sons
  10. ^ "Articular Facet". Medilexicon – Medical Dictionary. Archived from the original on August 6, 2016. Retrieved December 19, 2013.
  11. ^ "Foundational Model of Anatomy". Archived from the original on December 19, 2013. Retrieved December 19, 2013.
  12. ^ a b "Introduction to Joints (2) – Joints – Classification by Movement". Archived from the original on 2011-07-18. Retrieved 2012-10-06.
  13. ^ a b J. Gordon Betts; et al. (20 April 2022). "9.1 Classification of Joints". - Anatomy and Physiology. OpenStax. ISBN 978-1-951693-42-8. Retrieved 13 May 2023.
  14. ^ Morton, Samuel George (1849). An Illustrated System of Human Anatomy. p. 119.
  15. ^ Gray, Henry (1859). Anatomy, descriptive and surgical. p. 136.
  16. ^ Gray, Henry (1887). Anatomy, descriptive and surgical. p. 220.
  17. ^ a b c Platzer, Werner (2008). Color Atlas of Human Anatomy. Vol. 1. Thieme. p. 28. ISBN 9783135333069.
  18. ^ Armen S Kelikian, Shahan Sarrafian Sarrafian's Anatomy of the Foot and Ankle: Descriptive, Topographic, Functional p. 94
  19. ^ "Introductory Anatomy: Joints". Retrieved 2008-01-29.
  20. ^ "Clinical Neuroanatomy and Neuroscience - 6th Edition". Retrieved 2019-03-17.
  21. ^ a b c Klein, E. (1971). A comprehensive etymological dictionary of the English language. Dealing with the origin of words and their sense development thus illustration the history of civilization and culture. Amsterdam: Elsevier Science B.V.
  22. ^ Lewis, C.T. & Short, C. (1879). A Latin dictionary founded on Andrews' edition of Freund's Latin dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  23. ^ Thompson, Helen. "Switching to Farming Made Human Joint Bones Lighter". Smithsonian Magazine. Smithsonian, 22 December 2014. Retrieved 28 November 2016.

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