Structure and Function of Joints

To understand joint function, begin by reviewing the various types of joints and how they articulate, or interconnect, and the role of bursae in easing joint movement.

Types of Joints. There are three primary types of joint articulation— synovial, cartilaginous, and fibrous—allowing varying degrees of joint movement.

Type of Joint

Extent of Movement



Freely movable

Knee, shoulder


Slightly movable

Vertebral bodies of the spine



Skull sutures

In synovial joints, the bones do not touch each other, and the joint articulations are freely moveable. The bones are covered by articular cartilage and separated by a synovial cavity that cushions joint movement, as shown. A synovial membrane lines the synovial cavity and secretes a small amount of viscous lubricating fluid—the synovial fluid. The membrane is attached at the margins of the articular cartilage and pouched or folded to accommodate joint movement. Surrounding the synovial membrane is a fibrous joint capsule, which is strengthened by ligaments extending from bone to bone.

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