What is the Musculoskeletal System?

By Allan O. Fiesta, PT, DPT, OCS

What is the Musculoskeletal System?

The musculoskeletal system is an organ system in the body whose main function is to provide structure, support and movement. Before we discuss these functions in detail, let us first describe the different connective tissues that make up the musculoskeletal system.

Imgae of man running showing the musculoskeletal system. JOI Rehab

Musculoskeletal System

Four Major Types of Tissues

Epithelial – Tissues that covers all the internal and external body surfaces and includes structure as the skin and inner lining of the blood vessels.
Connective – Which include four 4 different classes of tissues: connective tissue proper, bone, cartilage, and blood tissues.
Muscle – Which are classified structurally as either smooth (found in different internal organs), striated (which make up all the skeletal muscles) and cardiac (the muscle found in the heart)
Nervous – Tissues that provide a two-way communication system between the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and muscles, sensory organs and various other systems.

What makes up the Musculoskeletal System?

The musculoskeletal system is made up of the bone, cartilage, skeletal muscles, fascia, tendon, ligaments and very closely related to this system are the peripheral nerves that supply the skeletal muscles and soft tissues.

Diagram showing the musculoskeletal system in three figures. JOI Rehab

Diagram of the Musculoskeletal System

What are the Functions of the Musculoskeletal System?


These are connective tissues that are rich in blood supply and are composed of collagen, calcium phosphate, water, proteins and cells. In a nutshell, the main function of the bones of our body is to give structure and support (e.g., the long bones of our appendages) and protects internal organs (e.g., bones of the skulls which protects the brain or the rib cage which protects the lungs and the heart)

Skeletal Muscles

These are tissues which are made up of individual muscle cells or fibers that work together to produce the movement of bony levers.


The type of cartilage that is found in the musculoskeletal system is called hyaline or articular cartilage whose main function is to cover the ends of the long bones and permits smooth movement to occur between the surfaces of your typical joints such as your elbow, knee or shoulder.


These are fibrous bands of connective tissues whose main function is to connect bones across joints and provide joints its stability.


These are dense connective tissues whose main function is to attach muscle to the bone at each end of the muscles. Tendons produce joint motion by transferring force from muscle and when stretched, store elastic energy that contributes to movement.


Fascia are loose connective tissues that provides support and protection to a joint, and act as an interconnection between tendons, ligaments, capsules, nerves and muscles.

5 Common Diseases of the Musculoskeletal System

  1. OsteoarthritisA condition where the cartilage on joint surfaces becomes worn out causing joint pain, limited mobility and decreased function.
  2. Rheumatoid Arthritisis a condition where your own cells attack the cells that are found in the soft tissues around your joints causing inflammation, pain, limited mobility and loss of function.
  3. Tendinopathy- Condition where the tendons or the connective tissue that attach muscles to bones have inflammation. Common tendinopathy of the musculoskeletal system involves the rotator cuff, Achilles tendon, medial and lateral elbow epicondyles and patellar tendons.
  4. Frozen ShoulderCondition where the capsule surrounding the shoulder joint contract and form scar tissue that prevent the shoulder from being able to freely move causing severe painful restriction and loss of function.
  5. SciaticaThis is a condition where there is inflammation or irritation of the sciatic nerve due to a compression which causes severe pain along the back of your thigh, lower leg and into the foot. The compression could be due to, but not limited to a herniated disc. In addition to, Inflammation of the muscles around the buttock or bony spurs.

What are the Common Musculoskeletal Pains?

Joint pain and bone pain are common pains in the musculoskeletal system. JOI Rehab

Musculoskeletal System Pains

  • Bone Pain – the most common type of bone pain results from injuries such as fractures.  Less commonly, tumors can also cause bone pain.
  • Muscle Pain – muscle spasms, cramps, injuries and direct blow to muscles such contusions can cause muscle pain. Some infections or tumors can also cause muscle pain.
  • Joint Pain – associated with stiffness and restricted movement and caused by inflammation of joints such as found in arthritis can cause joint pain.
  • Tendon and Ligament Pain – injuries that cause sprains and strains from trauma or overuse can cause tendon or ligament pain.

If your musculoskeletal pain starts to interfere with your activities of daily living and function, seek medical help. Your doctor can refer you to a physical therapist who specialize in this type of condition and gain your life back to enjoy the things you used to do.

Written By: Allan O. Fiesta, PT, DPT, OCS

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