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How Does the Musculoskeletal System Work?

Posted by Renew Physical Therapy Portland on Thursday, June 20, 2019

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Just Muscles Plus Bones. Right?

The musculoskeletal system is more than just a combination of two separate systems. In fact, when it comes to physical therapy it is hard to see it as two separate systems at all. A physical therapist is trained to understand how your body moves and, as you can imagine, your muscles, bones and even ligaments and tendons all play a part.  How all these parts work in concert to provide you with mobility, or restrict mobility when injured, is vital to diagnosing your symptoms and providing you with treatment and recovery.

Where Bones Connect

Your bones do a lot more than provide structure for your body. They also store minerals and lipids (energy reserves in the form of fat) and your bones produce blood cells. In the context of the musculoskeletal system and motion, a physical therapist is interested in how bones connect to each other. The point of connection is referred to as the joint. Each joint is different and provides different types of motion. Your knee is a hinge joint with minimal rotation while your shoulder is a socket joint allowing a lot more rotation. Just as important as the shape of each bone is the way they are connected, which brings us to the next part.

Tendons, Ligaments, and Cartilage

Most of us know that tendons and ligaments are connective tissue, but unless you are a physical therapist, it’s easy to confuse one with the other and use the terms interchangeably. Tendons and ligaments are different. Tendons attach muscle to bone and ligaments attach bone to bone. There is also another connective tissue called cartilage. The purpose of cartilage is to prevent bone-on-bone contact and rubbing against each other.

Muscles Pull on Tendons

Muscles are essentially a bunch of parallel fibers that contract and produce force through the tendons to move the bones. Technically, you do not flex your muscles, which is a common misconception. It is the joints, such as the knees or elbows, that flex when your muscles contract.

Don’t Forget Nerves

Nerves are also considered part of the musculoskeletal system. Nerves provide the signal from the brain to contract a muscle. Which pulls on the tendon. Which pulls on the bone. Which bends the joint.

There are a few other parts of the musculoskeletal system that we won’t go into detail on, like bursae, which act as a cushion between bones and tendons and/or muscles around a joint. There are also other different types of muscles, bones, and cartilage, all of which have unique functions within the musculoskeletal system.

The key take-away is in how this system works in concert to provide your body with motion. A physical therapist is a practitioner who is trained to identify, diagnose, and recommend treatment for issues that are related to the many parts of the complex musculoskeletal system.

Renew Physical Therapy is Located in Southeast Portland

Renew Physical Therapy is an independent manual physical therapy clinic in SE Portland that was established in December 2015 by Michael and Heidi Cantwell. Our facility features three private treatment rooms and an open gym area to treat all our patients’ needs, including neck and back pain. You can find us on Southeast Division Street in Portland, Oregon.

Visit our About Us page to learn more about our practice, clinic, and staff. Call us at 503.928.4914 to schedule an appointment.


Renew Your Body, Reclaim Your Life!


Categories: Manual Physical Therapy, Mobility, Musculoskeletal, Physical Therapy, Physical Therapy Clinic, Spinal Manipulation