The Structural System

Our structural system is made up of bones, cartilage, bone marrow, joints, tendons, ligaments, muscles, and teeth. The adult human skeletal system has about 206 bones while babies have about 350 bones. These 350 bones fuse together as we grow creating fewer longer bones. Bones have a hard and thick outer layer and a soft middle (marrow). There are different types of bones and cartilage depending upon their function and performance throughout the body.

The major functions of the structural system is to provide the framework for the rest of the body, to provide protection for our organs, and to offer flexibility of movement. Our bones also create a home for bone marrow, and a storage area for minerals.

Parts of the Structural System

  • Bone Marrow is the flexible tissue within the bones. Bone marrow can be either red or yellow. Yellow marrow consists mainly of fat and is found in the hollow interior of the middle portion of the long bones. Red marrow generates red blood cells, platelets, and most of the white blood cells. The red marrow is found mainly in the flat bones like the hips, breastbone, skull, ribs, vertebra and shoulder blades of an adult. Bone marrow also plays a very important role in our immune system because it produces stem cells. Stem cells have the ability to become many different cell types that are used to assist the body in regeneration and repair.
  • Joints are how our bones are linked together. Some joints have the ability to flex and bend and this ability is what give us our range of motion. There are two main types of joints - mobile or synovial and fixed or fibrous. Synovial joints are designed to allow a large range of movement. This type of joint is lined with a slippery coating called synovium. Fibrous joints are limited in their movement by fibrous tissue. There are also some joints that are formed between bone and cartilage. These joints offer greater flexibility.
  • Tendons are a tough band of fibrous connective tissue that connects muscles to bones. Tendons are also able to handle varying degrees of tension.
  • Ligaments are the toughest. Ligaments are the strong bands of connective tissue that attach one bone to another. Ligaments are mostly made up of collagen and some elastin and stretch very little. Fluid filled sacs (bursa) within joints is what provides the structural system with its smooth gliding abilities.
  • Voluntary muscles make up our structural system. Muscles together with the bones and tendons are responsible for all forms of conscious movement.
  • Teeth are also part of the structural system and most adults have 32 of them. Each tooth in our mouth has its own nerve and circulatory system to carry away wastes through our bloodstream.

Some Health Challenges of the Structural System

  • Osteoporosis literally means "porous bone". It is a progressive disease where the density and quality of the bone declines. This type of weakening of the bone makes individuals extremely susceptible to bone fractures. Osteoporosis is usually diagnosed by measuring an individuals bone density and is more common in women than in men.
  • Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease and is in a group of diseases that involves the deterioration of joints including cartilage and its adjacent bone. Signs may include joint pain, tenderness, stiffness, creaking, and locking. This disease rarely develops in individuals under 40 and is very common in individuals over 60. Usually only one or two joints are affected.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disorder and an inflammatory type of arthritis. The body's immune system mistakenly attacks the synovium (lining inside the joint). It typically affects the small joints in the hands and feet, but can occur in any synovial joint in the body. Its onset has been associated with physical or emotional stress, poor nutrition, and bacterial infections. Rheumatoid Arthritis can cause painful swelling that can result in bone erosion and joint deformity. It causes daily pain, stiffness, and fatigue. Again, it is more comment in women than in men and usually occurs in those under 40.
  • Fibromyalgia is a common yet complex chronic pain disorder. Its characteristics are widespread pain, multiple tender points, abnormal pain processing, sleep disturbances, fatigue and sometimes associated psychological stress. Fibromyalgia is considered a syndrome rather than a disease because it is a collection of signs, symptoms, and medical problems that tend to occur together but they are not related to a specific identifiable cause. It can be a debilitating syndrome that can interfere with one's daily activities.

The current approach to the above conditions is mostly symptom management. The symptoms are managed with a combination of prescription medications, therapies (massage, behavioral) and exercise. These conditions can also be helped by making some lifestyle changes.

Strengthening and Supporting the Structural System

  • Dietary Changes - Consume fresh fruit and vegetables and more vegetable protein. Decrease the amount of animal protein you eat. Examples are legumes, beans, apples, bananas, lemons, limes, berries, asparagus, kale, broccoli, cabbage, yams, and sweet potatoes.
  • Exercise 30 minutes a day at least 3 times per week and try to include weight bearing and muscle strengthening exercises.
  • Water - Keep your body hydrated, it functions so much better when it has roughly 8-10 glasses of filtered or spring water a day.
  • Reduce Stress - Try to focus on gratitude and joy.
  • Emotions - If you are hanging on to bitterness and anger, let it go and forgive others. Releasing negative emotions is very good for your body.

For nutritional supplements to support your bones, joints and structural system, Shop Nature's Sunshine Products.

Written by Mara Gerke, CA, CNHP, All Rights Reserved.

References: "Structural System" by Sylvia Rogers; "Know Your Body" by Emmet B. Keeffe, M.D.; Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Phyllis A. Balch, CNC