Structure of the skeletal system and the vertebral column

The main bones of the skeleton and their location are shown here:

Human skeleton, with the bones labelled: cranium, clavicle, sternum, humerus, radius, ulna, femur, patella, tarsals, metatarsals, phalanges.

Vertebral column

The vertebral column is divided into five main sections and each contains a specific number of vertebrae.

There are 33 vertebrae in total – the upper 24 vertebrae are articulating and separated from each other - there are seven cervical vertebrae, 12 thoracic vertebrae and five lumbar vertebrae.

The lower nine vertebrae are fused – the sacrum consists of five fused vertebrae and the coccyx is made up of four fused together.

The vertebral column, comprising cervical vertebrae (7 vertebrae), thoracic vertebrae (12 vertebrae), lumbar vertebrae (5 vertebrae), sacrum (5 fused vertebrae) and coccyx (4 fused vertebrae).

How many bones are there in total in the vertebral column?

7 cervical

12 thoracic

5 lumbar

5 in the sacrum

4 in the coccyx

= 33


Which three bones are found in the arm?




Types of bone

Within the skeleton there are four main types of bone.

Type of boneExample in bodyDescription
LongFemurCylindrical in shape and found in the limbs. Their main function is to act as a lever.
ShortCarpalsSmall and compact, often equal in length and width. These types of bone are designed for strength and weight bearing.
FlatRibsHave a flat surface. Their function is for protection for the internal organs of the body.
Irregular bonesVertebraeComplex individual shapes, variety of functions including protection and muscle attachment.

Where in the body are the metacarpals found?


One way to remember that carpals and metacarpals are in the wrist and hands is that you use them to drive a 'car' ('car-' is the start of the word 'carpals'). The 't' of tarsals and toes helps you remember tarsals and metatarsals are in the feet.