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Range of Motion

June 3, 2011

Physical therapy is often used to increase a joint’s range of motion — but just what does that mean?

Every joint allows movement: that’s what joints are for. Each joint normally moves in certain directions. So we expect to be able to twist our arm at the shoulder joint, but not to twist the knee around. We expect the knee to bend in one direction, but the wrist should be able to bend back and forth and side to side.

Each joint also has a normal amount of movement it can accomplish, expressed in angles. So a knee is expected to allow movement from a 0 degree angle (straight) to 150 degrees, which you’d experience when sitting on your knees as in the photo.

You wouldn’t expect your ankles to have the same range of motion.

Each joint has a degree and direction of motion that’s considered normal for that joint. If you have much less range of motion than this, you’re said to have a limited range of motion.

Limited range of motion can be caused by injury, inflammation, arthritis and other diseases and conditions, or even by fractures. Since there are so many possible causes, there are also many possible treatments.

Physical therapy is often recommended for limited range of motion. You may be given exercises, movement or manipulation of joints with support and assistance, or treatment with different kinds of machines.

Consistently following the treatment prescribed by your physical therapist is the key to success.

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