06.09 Musculoskeletal Terminology

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Included In This Lesson



  1. Musculoskeletal Medical Terms
  1. Skeletal System
  2. Muscular System
  3. Common Terms

Nursing Points


  1. Skeletal system
    1. Cranium – crani/o
    2. Thorax
      1. Ribs – cost/o
      2. Sternum – stern/o
      3. Clavicle – clavicul/o
      4. Scapula – scapul/o
    3. Spine
      1. Cervical – cervic/o
      2. Thoracic – thorac/o
      3. Lumbar – lumb/o
      4. Sacrum – sacr/o
      5. Coccyx- coccyg/o
    4. Pelvis
      1. Ilium – ili/o
      2. Ischium – ischi/o
      3. Pubis – pub/o
    5. Extremities
      1. Upper extremities
        1. Humerus – humer/o
        2. Radius – radi/o
        3. Ulna – uln/o
        4. Carpal – carp/o
        5. Metacarpals – metacarp/o
        6. Phalanges – phalang/o
      2. Lower Extremities
        1. Femur – femor/o
        2. Tibia – tibi/o
        3. Fibula – fibul/o
        4. Tarsals – tars/o
        5. Metatarsals – metatars/o
        6. Phalanges – phalang/o
  2. Muscular System
    1. Muscle –
      1. muscul/o (use with -ar)
      2. my/o (use with -algia, -ectomy, – oma, -nerual, -pathy, -rrhaphy, -therapy)
      3. myos/o (use with -in or -itis)
      4. Skeletal muscle – rhabdomy/o
      5. Cardiac muscle – myocardi/o
      6. Smooth muscle – leiomy/o
    2. Joints, Ligaments & Tendons
      1. Joint – arthr/o or articul/o
      2. Cartilage – chrondr/o
      3. Ligaments – ligament/o
      4. Tendon – ten/o or tendin/o
    3. Movement
      1. Flexion & extension
      2. Abduction & adduction
      3. Rotation
      4. Supination & pronation
      5. Dorsiflexion & plantar flexion
  3. Common Terms
    1. Straight – orth/o
    2. Bone – oste/o
    3. Crooked or bent – scoli/o
    4. Building up – -blast
    5. Breaking down – -clast
    6. Softening -malacia
    7. Condition of pores -porosis
    8. Stiff – ankyl/o
    9. Synovial fluid – synov/o
    10. Fascia (connective tissue ) – fasci/o
    11. Fiber – fibr/o
    12. Development -trophy


In this lesson, we’re going to talk about the medical terms used to describe the musculoskeletal system.

When you look at this diagram you can see that there’s a lot that goes into the skeletal system when using medical terminology. The difference between the skeletal system and the muscular system is that the skeletal system’s medical terms focus on the specific bone that’s in context. What the muscular system does is that focuses more on the structure of the muscle or some condition that has to do with the muscle.

For the most part, all of the combining forms are going to sound very similar to the bone themselves. So for Cranium, it’s going to be crani/o,  for the humerus it’s going to be humer/o and for the sternum, it’s going to be stern/o. There are a couple of terms in here that are a little bit tricky. Looking at the ribs, you use the combining form costo to describe a rib. For instance, the muscles in between ribs are called intercostal muscles. Where gets a little bit trickier is the bones in the wrist and the bones in the ankles. The bones in the wrist are the carpals, so those are carpo, and the bones in the ankles are tarsals so we refer to them as tarso. The way I remember this is that c comes before t and your wrists are above your ankles so your carpals and your metacarpals are in your wrist and hands and your tarsals and metatarsals are in your feet.

One really important thing that I want to point out is that the majority of the bones have their own name, with a few exceptions. The ribs and the spine have a series of bones that are actually broken up into divisions. With the ribs, we refer to them with a number. So if I wanted to locate the heart I would look along the midclavicular line, so that’s halfway down the clavicle. And go to the 5th intercostal space. That shows me where the apex of the heart is. Now the spine is different. The spine is broken up into five different sections. They also each have their number. The neck is called the cervical spine, the vertebra that is in the rib cage are the thoracic spine, the lower back is referred to as the lumbar spine, and then there’s the sacrum and the coccyx. So if there was a fracture in the coccyx it would be referred to as a coccygeal fracture. For the most part, these are pretty simple, but those ones that may trip you up, just make sure that you study them.

Now like I said with the muscular system, medical terminology focuses more on the structure of the muscle versus the particular muscles themselves. Anytime that were using medical terminology to describe a muscle, we would actually say the name of the muscle itself. So if there was a tear to the bicep, you would say a patient has a tear to their right bicep. They don’t have particular combining forms. However, you use different medical terms to describe the different conditions of the muscle. For instance, anything that’s referred to as muscular you are actually using a combining form musculo with the suffix -ar. However, if a patient has some sort of condition of the muscle, like muscle pain, we would use the combining form myo with any one of these suffixes. So muscle pain is referred to as myalgia, or a general condition of the muscle would be referred to as a myopathy. if someone has inflammation of the muscle you actually use a combining form myoso, so inflammation of the muscle would be called myositis. What is cool is that you can actually divide different types of muscle with different combining forms. Skeletal muscle is referred to as rhabdomyo, cardiac muscle is referred to as myocardio and smooth muscle is referred to as leiomyo. Now let’s take a look at the other important parts of the musculoskeletal system.

Joints, ligaments, and tendons all play a really important part of the musculoskeletal system. When we talked about joints we either use the combining form arthro or articulo, and one of her for two cartilage we will use the term chondro. So inflammation of a joint would be arthritis. Anytime you’re referring to a ligament you will use the term ligamento and if you’re talking about a tendon you’ll use the combining form teno or tendino. So any given condition of a tendon would be called a tendinopathy.

The last really important part of the musculoskeletal system is its role in locomotion and movement. Just like with some of the terms we were talking about with position and direction, they have opposites. So anytime you are dealing with movement, there’s an opposite for the most part. Flexions opposite is extension. Flexion is actually the narrowing of the angle, and extension is the opening of the angle around a joint. Abduction is moving something away from the body and adduction is moving it inward. Rotation is fairly simple, in that it’s a simple rotation around a joint. Now supination and pronation are a little bit more tricky. Pronation is the “inward” turning or turning your palm face down, and supination it the outward turning, or facing the palm up.  So, for example, if you were eating a bowl of soup, and you pronated your hand, you’d spill the soup. So, to keep the soup from spilling, you supinate your hand. Dorsiflexion and plantarflexion refer to the orientation of the foot in space. Dorsiflexion is lifting the foot up and plantarflexion is pushing the foot down like you’re pushing on the gas pedal.

Finally, I want to go over some really common terms that are used with a musculoskeletal system. A couple that you’ll see our Osteo, which means bone, and then you’ll see the word blast or clast when we’re talkin about bone formation. Friends since osteoblasts build muscle, and osteoclast break down muscle. Another term that you may see commonly is this term malacia which actually is a softening of tissue. One other suffix that you may see really commonly is trophy, which is the development of something. So patients that have muscular dystrophy have a condition where the muscle is not formed properly. Atrophy, is the absence of development of muscle, which in most cases actually means that many muscles are actually getting smaller.

So let’s recap. We were talking about the skeletal system, we want to refer to those particular bones with their actual medical term. With the muscular system, this really focuses more on the structure or the condition of the muscle. Also remember that there are medical terms to talk specifically about joints, ligaments, and tendons. And finally don’t forget that there is movement and Locomotion involved with the musculoskeletal system.

And that’s it for our lesson on the musculoskeletal system and its medical terminology. Make sure you check out all the resources attached to this lesson. Now, go out and be your best self today and as always, happy nursing.