Medical Terminology: Skeletal Root Words

By Beverley Henderson, Jennifer Lee Dorsey

The roots, as always, are essential medical terminology knowledge because once you master these roots (those good ol’ Greek and Latin ones, that is), you can break down any skeletal-related word and discover its meaning. Once you’ve gotten to know the specific parts of the skeletal system a bit better, it’s time to put your expertise into practice by breaking down the root words into meanings and useful applications.

Here’s a list of important skeletal system root words and combining forms.

Root Word What It Means
Kyph/o Humpback (posterior curvature of thoracic spine)
Lamin/o Lamina (part of the vertebral arch)
Lord/o Curve or swayback (lordosis: anterior curvature in
lumbar spine)
Lumb/o Lower back, lumbar region
Myel/o Bone marrow
Oste/o Bone
Orth/o Straight
Scoli/o Crooked, bent (scoliosis: lateral curvature of
spine)
Spondyl/o Vertebra (referring to conditions of the structure)
Vertebr/o Vertebra (referring to or describing the structure)

Familiarize yourself with this list of the combining forms used with bones.

Combining Form Example What It Means
Acetabul/o Acetabulum Hip joint
Calcane/o Cancaneus Heel
Carp/o Carpals Wrist bones
Clavic/o, clavicul/o Clavicle Collar bone
Cost/o Costal Ribs
Crani/o Cranium Skull
Femor/o Femur Upper leg bone
Fibul/o Fibula Lower leg bone
Humer/o Humerus Upper arm bone
Ili/o Ilium Pelvic bone
Ischi/o Ischium Pelvic bone
Lumb/o Spine Lumbar region
Malleol/o Malleolus Ankle
Mandibul/o Mandible Lower jaw
Maxill/o Maxilla Upper jaw
Metacarp/o Metacarpals Bones of hand
Metatars/o Metatarsals Bones of foot
Olecran/o Olecranon Elbow
Patell/o Patella Knee cap
Phalang/o Phalanges Bones of fingers and toes
Pub/o Pubis Portion of pelvic bone
Radi/o Radius Lower arm bone
Sacr/o Sacrum Sacral area of spine
Scapul/o Scapula Shoulder blade
Stern/o Sternum Breastbone
Tars/o Tarsals Ankle bones
Tibi/o Tibia Lower leg bone
Uln/o Ulna Lower arm bone

Now, check out this list of the combining forms used with joints.

Combining Form What It Means
Arthr/o Joint
Articul/o Joint
Burs/o Bursa
Chondr/o Cartilage
Disk/o Intervertebral disk
Fibros/o Fibrous
Menisc/o Meniscus
Synovi/o Synovium
Ten/o, tend/o, tendin/o Tendon