Being Articulate: Joints, Muscles and Bones

by Catherine Kettrick

Joints are a place where two or more bones meet. It is a place where bones can move in relation to each other.

Muscles are attached to bones, across joints. When we move, we contract our muscles, the muscles get shorter, and the bones the muscles are attached to get closer together. Another way of saying that is: the angle between the two bones of a joint decreases.

Your elbow is a joint. If you sit at a table, and lay your hand on it palm up, then bring your hand toward you, you will “bend your elbow.” You “bent your elbow” because you contracted the muscle that goes across the joint between your upper and lower arm bones. Contracting that muscle pulls your lower arm closer to your upper arm.

We are able to move because of our muscles, joints and bones. Joints allow us to move, and limit our movement. In the example above, you contracted a muscle, and brought your palm closer to your upper arm. Try the opposite. Try (very, very, very gently!!) extending your arm, and bringing the back of your hand closer to the back side of your upper arm. Can you move it very far? I hope not! You can’t move very far that way because the structure of your elbow joint will not allow it.

What we think about our structure–what we believe about how we are put together–will have a significant influence on how we move. If we have inaccurate ideas about our anatomical structure, we will embody those ideas in how we move, and our moving will not be free and easy. If we have an accurate concept of our structure and how it works, we will be able to move freely and easily. We will now find some important anatomical landmarks.

Where is Your Head?

Do you know where the top of your spine is? The bottom of your head rests on the top of your spine. Think about that for a moment, and then put a finger on your neck at the level you think is the top of your spine. Where is your finger? Some people think the top of their spine is at the level of their collar. Some people think it is at the level of the bottom of their ear lobe.

How To Locate the Top of Your Spine

Stick your fingers in your ears. Very delicately tilt your head forward and back about a centimeter or less. Notice where that moving is happening. The top of your spine is the middle of the bottom of your skull, between your ears and behind your nose. Is that where you thought it was?

Where Are Your Arms?

How much of you is arms? Take a hand and put it where you think the joint is that is the joint between your arm and your body. Where are you pointing?

How To Locate Your Arms

Take one hand and find one of your collarbones. Trace its length until you find the place where your collarbone meets your breast bone. Find the same place with your other collarbone. Now, take your right hand, and put it on the place where your left collarbone meets your breastbone. Move your left arm. Can you feel your collarbone move also?

Your collarbone is moving because it is an arm bone. Your scapula (often called “shoulder” blade) is also an arm bone. Can you feel it moving when you move your arm around?*

Take a moment to explore how you can move your arms. First notice what you are doing with your head in relation to your whole body. As you continue with this noticing, think of letting your fingertips lead your arm into moving. You might reach out toward something that is in front of you, or you might trace a figure 8 in the air. Whatever you do, see how easily you can let yourself move.

What do you notice doing this experiment? Most people, when they realize where their arms actually start, and when they let their whole arm (including their collarbones and scapulae) be free to move, find that their moving is much freer and easier than before.

Where is Your Middle?

Where is the middle of your body? If you took your total height, and divided it in half, where would that half way point be? Stand up, and put your hand where you think the half way point is.

Where is your hand? Is it one or two, perhaps three inches below your waist?

How To Find Your Middle

You will need a friend to help you.

Get a long piece of string. Take off your shoes. Hold one end of the string at the back of your head, at the height of the top of your head. Have your friend lay the string along your body until it touches the floor. (Don’t pull the string too tight, and don’t have it too loose. Use just enough tension on the string to keep it straight). Cut the string at floor level.

This string is your total height. Now fold the string in half. The string is now half your height. Hold one end of the string at the height of the top of your head, and have your friend put the other end along your body.

Where is the end of the string? Is one half of your height where you thought it would be?

Where Are Your Legs?

How much of you is legs? How “far up” your body do you think your legs go?

Stand up, and put one hand low on your tummy, palm toward you, fingers pointing down. Put your other hand low on your back, palm toward you, fingers pointing down. Shift your weight onto one leg, and begin to move your other leg around. Move it forward and backward and to the side. Can you feel your leg moving around your body? Can you feel your leg moving in your hip socket? Now try moving the other leg.

Your legs are half your height. Remember where half your height was when you found it with the string?

Continue moving a leg, forward, back, around and to the side. Can you feel the muscles you use to move your leg? These are leg muscles.

Axial and Appendicular Skeleton

Your axial skeleton is the bones of your torso: your head, spine and rib cage. Your appendicular skeleton is everything else. Your axial skeleton is your “body.” Your appendicular skeleton is your arms and legs. Your arms and legs work independently of your body.

Arm and Leg Muscles, or: How Much of Your Back is Back?

Remember when you stood on one leg and moved your leg around? If not, stand up and move your leg around again. Notice the muscles that are moving as you move your leg. The muscles that move your leg are leg muscles.

Move your arms again. Remember that your collarbone and scapula are arm bones.* The muscles that attach to them, and move them are arm muscles. Can you notice which muscles are moving as you move your arms?

Many of us think of “back” muscles as the ones we can see on a person’s back. When our “back” hurts, it is sometimes these muscles that hurt. But almost all the muscles on your back that you can see are really arm or leg muscles. Some of your arm muscles go almost all the way down your back. Some of your leg muscles connect much higher on your back than you may think. Your arm and leg muscles are on top of your body muscles.

If you still aren’t sure about “back,” “arm,” and “leg” muscles, go to the meat section of your local store, and find a package of chicken backs. How much meat is on the back of a chicken? Not very much. We’re just like chickens: our “back” muscles (which are body muscles) are very few compared to our arm and leg muscles.

Why Is It Important To Know About Muscles and Bones?

Because what you believe about your structure will affect how you move.

Let’s try an experiment. Even though you now know where your arms attach to your body, disbelieve that for a minute. Instead, believe very, very strongly that your arms attach at “the shoulder” and that your collarbones and scapulae are part of your body. Now just move your arm–don’t let your collarbone or scapula move, that’s part of your body, and you only want to move your arm.

What happened? What did you notice?

Now forget that idea, and remember where your arms really attach to your body. Remember that your collarbone and scapula are arm bones, and the muscles that move them are arm muscles. Move your arm.

What did you notice? Is moving your arm different when you believe your collarbone and scapula are part of your body compared to when you believe they are part of your arm?

Most people notice a difference between the two ways of moving their arm. The second one usually feels easier and more free. And what made the difference in the two experiences? The difference was what you believed about your structure.

What do you believe about the muscles of your back? If you think of the muscles on your back as “back” muscles, instead of muscles that primarily move your arms or legs, then you may try to use them to do the work of your real back muscles, which are much farther in and underneath the muscles you can see. You may try to “hold yourself up” using some of your arm muscles. You may use your leg muscles to try to “stabilize” your torso.

Arms and legs work best when we leave them alone, and one of the best ways to leave them alone is to realize that they are independent of our torso, and can move independently and freely from our torso.

*(Do note that if you look in a classical anatomy textbook you will find the bones of the arm listed as humerus (the “upper” arm bone) and the radius and ulna (the two “bottom” arm bones). The collarbone (clavicle) and “shoulder blade” (scapula) are listed as part of the “shoulder girdle.” This is a traditional distinction to make it easier for anatomy students and medical people to label and talk about these bones. However, functionally–meaning how the bones move–the collarbone and scapula are part of your arm. It is very important that you keep this distinction clear. If you know that your collarbone and scapula function as part of your arm moving, then you will leave them alone to move freely as needed when you move your arm.