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What is Cancellous Bone?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Feb 20, 2024
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Cancellous bone is the spongy interior layer of bone that protects the bone marrow. It is also be called a spongy bone or trabecular bone. It structurally resembles honeycomb and accounts for about 20% of bone matter in the human body.

This type of bone is often also found on the edges of rounded bones like those of the arms and legs. Though this bone is not quite as strong as compact bone, it is somewhat more flexible and is useful in bones that are jointed. Primarily, however, cancellous bone protects the bone marrow, performing a useful and necessary task in the body.

Some conditions can affect the cancellous bone in a person’s body. For instance, those with osteoporosis tend to have less of this type of bone than normal. Since much of the cancellous bone is found in bones in the pelvis and spine, a lack of it can be very dangerous.

A broken pelvis can result in inappropriate blood clotting or bleeding because so many tiny arteries are attached to the pelvis. A broken spine is even more significant. It can lead in some cases to minor or major paralysis depending upon location and severity of the break.

Studies suggest that simple aging slightly changes in this type of bone, making it less complex as people age. Since the bone lacks some of its “spongy” quality in those who are over 50, it may be indicated in more breakages even when major osteoporosis is not present. Cancellous bone also does not regenerate as easily or as quickly in those over 50, especially in women. For those older than 50, they may experience much longer healing times for breakages that reach the interiors of their bones.

Some other conditions may affect cancellous bone and compact bone. These include low thyroid conditions, lack of appropriate hormones after menopause or hysterectomy. Brittle bone syndrome can significantly affect both cancellous bone and compact bone. Malnutrition can lead to poor bone structure and bone development, and alcoholism predisposes one toward osteoporosis as well.

To protect bone growth, medical researchers recommend treating underlying conditions where possible, maintaining an active lifestyle, refraining from too much alcohol and taking daily calcium supplementation.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon308175 — On Dec 09, 2012

This bone is supposed to cushion the joints, correct?

By anon160144 — On Mar 14, 2011

take calcium to get strengthen your bone. it helps if you do this before you are 40 because that is when your peak bone density begins to decline.

also make sure to not take more than 500mg per dose because your body can only absorb a maximum of 500mg Calcium. do weight bearing exercises too nothing heavy just light 5 or 10 lb dumb-bell exercises to prevent osteoporosis. I'm a med student and that's what i just learned about it.

By Planch — On Sep 30, 2010

As an older woman, I'm growing increasingly concerned about my bone health, and was wondering how I can keep up good function of my cancellous bone. I know that it's extremely important, but I was not sure if I could take a calcium supplement to help it or not.

I know a friend who had to go through bone remodeling with an autogenous bone graft, and I am so desperate to avoid that -- what are some good ways to help me do that?

By gregg1956 — On Sep 30, 2010

When it comes to density of bone, is cancellous bone the least dense? And how does it compare as far as bone strength? Is cancellous bone or cortical bone stronger?

By rallenwriter — On Sep 30, 2010

Thanks for this -- I was researching cancellous bone function and histology for some copy, and this really helped me figure out how to define cancellous bone in a way that is easily understandable. Thanks so much!

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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