We present for the first time full three-dimensional (3D) volumetric reconstruction of absorption images of in vitro and in vivo bones and joints from near-infrared tomographic measurements. Imaging experiments were conducted on human finger and chicken bones embedded in cylindrical scattering media using a Clemson multichannel diffuse optical imager. The volumetric optical images were recovered with our 3D finite element based reconstruction algorithm. Our results show that 3D imaging methods can provide details of the joint structure/composition that would be impossible from two-dimensional imaging methods. © 2002 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.