Kat Thomson

MCAT Bone, Cartilage, Joints – Musculoskeletal System

Doctor pointing to bone - image by Magoosh

As you study for the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section of the MCAT, you will want to familiarize yourself with the musculoskeletal system and bone structure. Specifically, you should prepare for MCAT bone questions and MCAT cartilage questions, which involve understanding the major functions of bone and types of bones cells. Also, we encourage you to check out this guide to everything tested on the MCAT related to biology and biochemistry.

Below is a quick overview of some key things you should know. For an on-the-go PDF version of this content and more MCAT resources, click the link below!

Click here to download more Magoosh MCAT resources

Major Functions of Bone

Bones have four primary functions:

The 4 functions of bone - image by Magoosh

Types of Bone Cells

There are four types of bone cells you should know:

  1. Osteoprogenitor
  2. Osteoclast
  3. Osteoblast
  4. Osteocyte

Here’s a simple breakdown of their primary functions:

types of bone cells - image by Magoosh

And here’s another helpful trick for remembering the difference between osteoclasts and osteoblasts specifically:

  • OsteoClasts Crack bone
    OsteoBlasts Build bone

MCAT Bone Types and Joint Types

Bone Types

There are four major types of bones, as noted with examples below:

Bone Type Example
Long Femur
Short Carpel bones
Flat Frontal
Irregular Vertebrate

Joint Types

There are three major types of joints, as noted with examples below:

Joint Type Definition Example
Fibrous Immovable joint; bones are connected by fibrous connective tissue Skull
Cartilaginous Allows very little movement; bones are connected by cartilage Vertebrate and pubic bone
Synovial Mobile joint with fluid-filled space between bone Shoulder, hip, elbow, knee

A Final Word on MCAT Bone, Cartilage, and Joint Content

When breaking down the parts of the musculoskeletal system, it’s important to understand the difference between bone and cartilage. Cartilage is a lightweight flexible tissue that serves a structural function and absorbs shock in joints. It is avascular, which is why damaged cartilage is slow to heal relative to bone.

Additionally, the epiphyseal (growth) plate is a type of cartilage: a thin layer of cartilage within bones that allows longitudinal growth during development. It is ossified after bones reach their final length.

Want more MCAT practice? Check out Magoosh’s MCAT prep, which includes 380 lessons, 745+ practice questions, personalized email assistance, and more!

Happy studying and good luck!


  • Kat Thomson

    Kat is the Senior Curriculum Manager at Magoosh with a specialty in the MCAT. She has a BA from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a Ph.D. in medical sociology from the University of California, San Francisco, where she earned the Distinguished Dissertation Award in the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Kat has been teaching premed and nursing students since 2005 as a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of San Francisco, Bowdoin, and the University of California, Berkeley, while collaborating on multiple research projects and publications. In addition to the MCAT, Kat has taught courses in Research Methods, Gender, Global and Environmental Health, and others. She is passionate about increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in medicine and helping students get into the medical schools of their dreams. You can join Kat on Instagram and YouTube.

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