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In Depth: Bones

The bones of the chest — namely the rib cage and spine — protect vital organs from injury, and also provide structural support for the body.

The rib cage is one of the body’s best defenses against injury from impact. Flexible yet strong, the rib cage protects major vital organs such as the heart, lungs, and liver.

Contrary to urban legend and some religious beliefs, women do not have more ribs than men. A typical rib cage has 24 ribs.

Each rib extends from the spinal cord and wraps around the body in a semicircle. The ribs encircle vital organs, such as the lungs, and connect to the costal cartilage in the front of the body. This hard cartilage extends from the end of each rib and connects to the sternum.

However, the bottom three ribs do not connect to the costal cartilage. They remain free, and are referred to as ‘floating ribs’. This allows humans to bend at the waist without the ribs interfering with the pelvis. 

The sternum, or breastbone, is a long flat bone in the center of the chest. It protects the heart and also serves as the connection point for the costal cartilage.

The clavicle, or collarbone, extends across the front of the shoulder from the sternum to the scapula, or shoulder blade. It is frequently fractured in automobile accidents and sports injuries.

The scapula, or shoulder blade, is a flat triangular bone located in the back of the shoulder. It connects with the collarbone in the front of the body. It is also is connected to the shoulder joint, which brings together the shoulder blade and the humerus, or the large bone of the upper arm.

The spine, or vertebral column, is a very important part of the human body. Running from the brain to the tailbone, the spine is a nerve center enclosed in a series of 24 connected bones called vertebrae. Each bone is cushioned with a disc made of cartilage that acts as a joint and ligament to keep the vertebrae connected.

As women age, they typically lose bone density to osteoporosis, a progressive bone disease. This loss leaves them weak and susceptible to traumatic fractures. Supplements and medications are typically given to help bones retain their mass.

Osteoporosis primarily affects women over the age of 50 because women typically tend to lose about 1 percent of their bone mass after the age 35. Postmenopausal women are at a greater risk because the hormone estrogen, which declines after menopause, aids in bone density.

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