Ossification of Appendicular Bones

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The appendicular skeleton highlighted in blue.. Authored by: LadyofHats Mariana Ruiz Villarreal. Located athttps://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Appendicular_skeleton_diagram_blank.svgLicenseCC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike

OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology

All of the girdle and limb bones, except for the clavicle, develop by the process of endochondral ossification. This process begins as the mesenchyme within the limb bud differentiates into hyaline cartilage to form cartilage models for future bones. By the twelfth week, a primary ossification center will have appeared in the diaphysis (shaft) region of the long bones, initiating the process that converts the cartilage model into bone. A secondary ossification center will appear in each epiphysis (expanded end) of these bones at a later time, usually after birth. The primary and secondary ossification centers are separated by the epiphyseal plate, a layer of growing hyaline cartilage. This plate is located between the diaphysis and each epiphysis. It continues to grow and is responsible for the lengthening of the bone. The epiphyseal plate is retained for many years, until the bone reaches its final, adult size, at which time the epiphyseal plate disappears and the epiphysis fuses to the diaphysis. (Seek additional content on ossification in the chapter on bone tissue.)

Small bones, such as the phalanges, will develop only one secondary ossification center and will thus have only a single epiphyseal plate. Large bones, such as the femur, will develop several secondary ossification centers, with an epiphyseal plate associated with each secondary center. Thus, ossification of the femur begins at the end of the seventh week with the appearance of the primary ossification center in the diaphysis, which rapidly expands to ossify the shaft of the bone prior to birth. Secondary ossification centers develop at later times. Ossification of the distal end of the femur, to form the condyles and epicondyles, begins shortly before birth. Secondary ossification centers also appear in the femoral head late in the first year after birth, in the greater trochanter during the fourth year, and in the lesser trochanter between the ages of 9 and 10 years. Once these areas have ossified, their fusion to the diaphysis and the disappearance of each epiphyseal plate follow a reversed sequence. Thus, the lesser trochanter is the first to fuse, doing so at the onset of puberty (around 11 years of age), followed by the greater trochanter approximately 1 year later. The femoral head fuses between the ages of 14–17 years, whereas the distal condyles of the femur are the last to fuse, between the ages of 16–19 years. Knowledge of the age at which different epiphyseal plates disappear is important when interpreting radiographs taken of children. Since the cartilage of an epiphyseal plate is less dense than bone, the plate will appear dark in a radiograph image. Thus, a normal epiphyseal plate may be mistaken for a bone fracture.

The clavicle is the one appendicular skeleton bone that does not develop via endochondral ossification. Instead, the clavicle develops through the process of intramembranous ossification. During this process, mesenchymal cells differentiate directly into bone-producing cells, which produce the clavicle directly, without first making a cartilage model. Because of this early production of bone, the clavicle is the first bone of the body to begin ossification, with ossification centers appearing during the fifth week of development. However, ossification of the clavicle is not complete until age 25.


Betts, J. G., Young, K. A., Wise, J. A., Johnson, E., Poe, B., Kruse, D. H., … DeSaix, P. (n.d.). Anatomy and Physiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/anatomy-and-physiology