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From our head to our toes, bones provide support for our bodies and help form our shape. The skull protects the brain and forms the shape of our face. The spinal cord, a pathway for messages between the brain and the body, is protected by the backbone, or spinal column. The ribs form a cage that shelters the heart, lungs, liver, and spleen, and the pelvis helps protect the bladder, intestines, and in women, the reproductive organs. Bone-building continues throughout life, as a body constantly renews and reshapes the bones' living tissue.

Joints occur where two bones meet. They make the skeleton flexible — without them, movement would be impossible.

Joints allow our bodies to move in many ways. Some joints open and close like a hinge (such as knees and elbows), whereas others allow for more complicated movement — a shoulder or hip joint, for example, allows for backward, forward, sideways, and rotating movement.

The main joints of the body — found at the hip, shoulders, elbows, knees, wrists, and ankles — are freely movable. They are filled with synovial fluid, which acts as a lubricant to help the joints move easily.

Three kinds of freely movable joints play a big part in voluntary movement:

  • Hinge joints allow movement in one direction, as seen in the knees and elbows.
  • Pivot joints allow a rotating or twisting motion, like that of the head moving from side to side.
  • Ball-and-socket joints allow the greatest freedom of movement. The hips and shoulders have this type of joint, in which the round end of a long bone fits into the hollow of another bone.

As strong as bones are, they can break. Muscles can weaken, and joints (as well as tendons, ligaments, and cartilage) can be damaged by injury or disease. Problems that can affect the bones, muscles, and joints include:

  • Arthritis is the inflammation of a joint, and people who have it experience swelling, warmth, pain, and often have trouble moving. Although we often think of arthritis as a condition that affects only older people, arthritis can also occur in children and teens.
  • A fracture is when a bone breaks; it may crack, snap, or shatter. After a fracture, new bone cells fill the gap and repair the break. Applying a strong plaster cast, which keeps the bone in the correct position until it heals, is the usual treatment. If the fracture is complicated, metal pins and plates can be placed to better stabilize it while the bone heals.
  • Muscular dystrophy is an inherited group of diseases that affect the muscles, causing them to weaken and break down over time. The most common form in childhood is called Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and it most often affects boys.
  • Osgood-Schlatter disease is an inflammation (pain and swelling) of the bone, cartilage, and/or tendon at the top of the shinbone, where the tendon from the kneecap attaches. OSD usually strikes active teens around the beginning of their growth spurts, the approximately 2-year period during which they grow most rapidly.
  • Osteomyelitis is a bone infection often caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, though other types of bacteria can cause it, too. In kids and teens, osteomyelitis usually affects the long bones of the arms and legs. Osteomyelitis often develops after an injury or trauma.
  • In Osteoporosis, bone tissue becomes brittle, thin, and spongy. Bones break easily, and the spine sometimes begins to crumble and collapse. Although the condition usually affects older people, kids and teens with eating disorders can get the condition, as can girls with female athlete triad syndrome — a combination of three conditions that some girls who exercise or play sports may be at risk for: disordered eating, amenorrhea (loss of a girl's period), and osteoporosis. Participation in sports where a thin appearance is valued can put a girl at risk for female athlete triad.
  • RSIs (Repetitive Stress Injuries) are a group of injuries that happen when too much stress is placed on a part of the body, resulting in inflammation (pain and swelling), muscle strain, or tissue damage. This stress generally occurs from repeating the same movements over and over again. Playing sports like tennis that involve repetitive motions can also lead to RSIs. Kids and teens who spend a lot of time playing musical instruments or video games are also at risk for RSIs. RSIs are becoming more common in kids and teens because they spend more time than ever using computers.
  • Scoliosis. Every person's spine curves a little bit; a certain amount of curvature is necessary for people to move and walk properly. But 3-5 people out of 1,000 have scoliosis, which causes the spine to curve too much. It can be hereditary, so someone who has scoliosis often has family members who have it.
  • Strains & Sprains. Strains occur when muscles or tendons are overstretched. Sprains are an overstretching or a partial tearing of the ligaments. Strains usually happen when a person takes part in a strenuous activity when the muscles haven't properly warmed up or the muscle is not used to the activity (such as a new sport or playing a familiar sport after a long break).
    Sprains are usually the result of an injury, such as twisting an ankle or knee. A common sprain injury is a torn Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscles to the heel. This tendon can snap, but it usually can be repaired by surgery. Both strains and sprains are common in kids and teens because they're active and still growing.
  • Tendonitis. This common sports injury that usually happens after over exercising a muscle. The tendon and tendon sheath become inflamed, which can be painful. Resting the muscles and taking anti-inflammatory medication can bring relief.
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