Meaning of Range of Motion Measurements


Range of motion (ROM) measurements determine the amount of movement that you have within each joint. It can also indicate the extent of loss of movement and–depending on the type of measurement taken–can help to determine if the loss is structural or due to an injury. ROM measurements can help determine the methods necessary for your return to a normal range and function.


Being able to move each joint through its normal range is necessary for the performance of your daily tasks and activities. As you age, your connective tissue becomes less pliable, creating a consequent loss in flexibility. You may maintain your normal range of motion throughout your lifetime with adequate stretching. It is possible to lose range and not realize it, due to compensation. An example of this would be leaning to the side and raising up onto your toes to reach overhead, with a loss of shoulder flexion. You may also be hyper-mobile, with excessive range of motion, which creates joint instability with an increased injury risk. Bending your elbow or knee beyond straight, into a hyper-extended position, is an example of hyper-mobility.


Active Range of Motion

Active ROM is measured while you move your joint through the range under your own power. This measurement helps identify weakness or injury within the muscular system. Active range is more indicative of your functional limitations. Active ROM can also be assisted, in which case you move your body part with help from your practitioner.

Passive Range of Motion

Your passive ROM requires no muscular activity from you. The practitioner will move your body part through the entire range, while you remain relaxed. This form of measurement tests the joint structures while eliminating potential muscular involvement. Your practitioner will be assessing your limitation by palpating and stretching to help determine the problem and the best course of action to help you return to a full range of motion


Measurements can be taken visually or by using instrumentation. For either type of measurement, it is helpful to take a comparison measurement of the opposite side, as a baseline for the individual norm. You will not necessarily have the exact same range at each joint as someone else, so checking each side allows you to determine if there is a general tightness, or if you have lost motion without realizing it, due to your body’s ability to compensate. A commonly used instrument for measurement is the goniometer. This tool comes in a variety of sizes and styles, allowing for convenient measurement of each joint. Each type of goniometer has degree markings and points of reference, which allow for a specific reading of measurement.


Each joint of your body has a specific guideline for normal ROM measurements. The joints of your body include your neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist, hand, back, hip, knee, foot and ankle. Injury or lack of use can create deficits, which have an overall effect on your general health and well being. If you notice that you have a decrease in motion at a joint, such as no longer being able to scratch your back or having difficulty putting on your socks, don’t disregard it. Seek medical advice if you experience pain with movement.

Reference Guidelines

The following are ROM terminology explanations: flexion (bending); extension (straightening); rotation (twisting); abduction (moving away from mid-line); adduction (moving toward mid-line); internal, inversion and pronation (inward); external, eversion and supination (outward); plantarflexion (pointing toes) and dorsiflexion (pulling toes back).

About this Author

Kristi Stephens holds certifications in athletic training, massage therapy and personal training, including NASM, and NSCA. She has a degree in P.E, with a coaching concentration, and family life and human sexuality, has coached a variety of sports, and owns a personal training and massage therapy business.