Introduction to a Functional Skeleton


A skeleton can be a wonderful tool for quickly communicating an idea about the human body to someone else, but if you're trying to convey more than what the bones look like, their general location and where a muscle attaches, there's a lot to be desired. 

If you're trying to convey the dynamics of movement and how forces transmit through the skeleton and across joint surfaces, then most anatomical models are going to disappoint. Here's a rundown of the lovely (and I'm sure rather expensive) model at our university library:


The TMJ is held rigidly in plastic. The spine is fixed in place by a rigid metal rod. The sternoclavicular joint is screwed in place, as is the acromioclavicular joint and the scapulothoracic. The glenohumeral is held together with a hook through a loop. The rib cage allows no movement. The sacroiliac joint is bolted together (same at the pubic symphysis). The hip presents another hook and loop. The knee is a single axis hinge with a patella floating in the middle of nowhere. Yet another hook-loop at the talocrural. The wrist is a single axis hinge.

The elbow and forearm are actually modeled well. Props.

What's Meant by a "Functional Skeleton"?

Movement of the skeleton is largely dependent on the shapes of its joint surfaces. By using bungee cords to hold the joint surfaces together throughout the joint's range of motion, you can get a good idea of what the body can do. This makes the skeleton more representative of how humans function--as opposed to the mechanical approximations of typical skeletons.

This project is based on the writings of John Chester, MD, made available by Jeff Haller. I'm making some modifications along the way because I'm starting with a fully disarticulated skeleton instead of the fully assembled skeleton Dr. Chester begins with. More steps, but a more interesting final product at the end.

Check out the tools and materials needed to get started here.

If you have any questions or comments along the way, please let me know below.

Image Credits

Thumbnail: "Govard Bidloo t88" by Gerard de Lairesse - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia