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What Is Range of Motion (ROM)? - Definition, Types, Testing & Exercises

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  • 0:01 Definition of Range of Motion
  • 0:26 Importance of Flexibility
  • 1:36 Types of Range of Motion
  • 2:32 Testing Your Range of Motion
  • 3:27 Range of Motion Exercises
  • 4:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erin McLaughlin

Erin has taught Exercise Science and has a master's degree in Exercise Physiology.

Range of motion is a measurement of movement around a joint. Learn how it is affected and how it is tested, and start incorporating exercises to improve your own range of motion!

Definition of Range of Motion

Range of Motion is the measurement of movement around a specific joint or body part.

Let's say a soccer player named Jane has torn a ligament in her knee and is working with a physical therapist to try and regain her range of motion. Initially, she was rather limited in her movement, but since performing the stretching exercises regularly, the therapist has confirmed that her range of motion has been getting closer to her pre-injury level of functioning.

Importance Of Flexibility

In order for a joint to have full range of motion, it must have good flexibility. Each joint has its own level of flexibility, expressed in degrees. Flexibility is the range of motion around a joint, and can refer to ligaments, tendons, muscles, bones, and joints. If a joint has good range of motion then it would be able to move in all planes and directions permitted to that joint. For example, the elbow, which is a hinged joint, only permits movement in one direction, but it should provide full range of motion from extension to flexion.

Although flexibility is the most neglected fitness component, it is important for general health, injury prevention, and even sports performance. Factors that may contribute to a lack in the range of motion could be pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints, side effects common in arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis. Injuries can have lasting effects on how freely a joint moves. Other factors that can determine one's flexibility are joint structure, muscles, tendons, ligaments, fat tissue, body temperature, activity level, gender, age, and genetics.

Types of Range of Motion

There are three primary types of exercises specific to range of motion. Passive range of motion is typically practiced on a joint that is inactive. The physical therapist may use this exercise on a client who is paralyzed or unable to mobilize a specific joint. This type of exercise can help prevent stiffness from occurring. During this exercise the patient does not perform any movement, while the therapist stretches the patient's soft tissues.

Active-assistive range of motion exercises are more progressive, intended for the client to perform movement around the joint, with some manual assistance from the physical therapist or from a strap or band. These exercises can often feel painful, and the muscles can feel weak. Increasing range of motion with these exercises should be a gradual advancement.

Active range of motion exercises are highly independent, performed solely by the client. The physical therapist's role may be simply to provide verbal cues.

Testing Your Range of Motion

To measure range of motion, physical therapists most commonly use a goniometer, which is an instrument that measures angle at a joint. Goniometers show degrees of an angle from zero to 180 or 360 degrees and are available in different shapes and sizes for the unique joints in the human body.

As an example, when using a goniometer to measure knee flexion, the center of the tool will be at the side view of the knee joint, and the arms of the goniometer are aligned in the center of the long bones above and below the knee. As the knee is bent or flexed the movable arms provide a measure of the degree of movement.

Other tools used to measure joint angle at extension and flexion are an inclinometer, which assists in measuring the spinal angle, or even a tape measure for various joints. In order to confirm that there is progress being made on increasing the range of motion in a joint, the physical therapist measures the joint angle prior to treatment, and continues to do so over time.

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