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6.10: The Structure of Long Bones

A long bone consists of a central portion or shaft and two ends called epiphyses (see diagram 6.12). Long bones move against or articulate with other bones at joints and their ends have flattened surfaces and rounded protuberances (condyles) to make this possible. If you carefully examine a long bone you may also see raised or rough surfaces. This is where the muscles that move the bones are attached. You will also see holes (a hole is called a foramen) in the bone. Blood vessels and nerves pass into the bone through these. You may also be able to see a fine line at each end of the bone. This is called the growth plate or epiphyseal line and marks the place where increase in length of the bone occurred (see diagram 6.16).

Anatomy and physiology of animals Femur.jpg

Diagram 6.12 - A femur

Anatomy and physiology of animals l-s section long bone.jpg

6.13 - A longitudinal section through a long bone

If you cut a long bone lengthways you will see it consists of a hollow cylinder (see diagram 6.13). The outer shell is covered by a tough fibrous sheath to which the tendons are attached. Under this is a layer of hard, dense compact bone (see below). This gives the bone its strength. The central cavity contains fatty yellow marrow, an important energy store for the body, and the ends are made from honeycomb-like bony material called spongy bone (see box below). Spongy bone contains red marrow where red blood cells are made.


  • Ruth Lawson (Otago Polytechnic; Dunedin, New Zealand)