to form arches

Phalanx (28)


Three in each toe, two in great toe

Life-span Changes

Aging-associated changes in the skeletal system are apparent at the cellular and whole-body levels. Most obvious is the incremental decrease in height that begins at about age thirty, with a loss of about 1/16 of an inch a year. In the later years, compression fractures in the vertebrae may contribute significantly to loss of height. Overall, as calcium levels fall and bone material gradually vanishes, the skeleton loses strength, and the bones become brittle and increasingly prone to fracture. However, the continued ability of fractures to heal reveals that the bone tissue is still alive and functional (fig. 7.57).

Components of the skeletal system and individual bones change to different degrees and at different rates over a lifetime. Gradually, osteoclasts come to outnumber osteoblasts, which means that bone is eaten away in the remodeling process at a faster rate than it is replaced—resulting in more spaces in bones. The bone thins, its strength waning. Bone matrix changes, with the ratio of mineral to protein increasing, making bones more brittle and prone to fracture. Beginning in the third decade of life, bone matrix is removed faster than it is laid down. By age thirty-five, all of us start to lose bone mass.


The bones change to different degrees and at different rates over a lifetime.

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