Range of Motion (ROM) is the measurement of the distance and direction a joint can move to its full potential.
E.g. Raising your arm from by your side to above your head = 180°; Flexion.
All the joint structures of the body are designed to have a given ROM. This allows for normal movement with minimal stress to the structures of the body. In order for a joint to have full ROM, it must have good flexibility. The flexibility of a joint is determined not only by the joint itself, but also the muscles, tendons and ligaments that surround it.
Joint ROM is measured in degrees relative to the direction of movement.
By measuring ROM we can determine if you have Normal, Excessive, or Limited ROM.
Each joint of the body has accepted values for a normal ROM.
E.g. Knee Joint: 0° to 120° Flexion; 120° to 0° Extension
Physical therapists measure an individual’s ROM and compare it to these normal values. There is variability among various individuals. The reference values for normal ROM differ depending on age and gender. Females on average have a greater normal ROM than males. Elderly people on average have a lesser normal ROM. The genetic structure of joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments can also create a variance in normal ROM.
Some people have joint structures that are hyper-mobile. This is a joint that’s genetic structure allows it to move through a greater ROM than is considered normal.
E.g. An elbow joint that is able to move beyond straight.
Hyper-mobile joints occur significantly more often in women than men. Although hyper-mobility often occurs in the more mobile joints of the body (fingers, elbows, shoulders, lumbar spine and knees) it can occur in any mobile joint structure, as seen in contortionists.
Excessive ROM can be developed by repetitively forcing a joint to move through an increased ROM. Normally this occurs in athletic and performance type activities, such as high kicking in martial arts.
Describes a joint that has a reduction in its ability to move normally. The reduced motion may be caused by:
– A mechanical problem with a specific joint. E.g. frozen shoulder.
– Injuries to the soft tissue surrounding a joint. E.g. torn muscle, tendon or ligament.
– Disease pathologies. E.g. Arthritis.
– Physical and/or emotional stress. E.g. Neck stiffness.
Pain, swelling and stiffness associated with these causes can limit the ROM of a joint, causing impaired function and a reduction in the ability to perform usual daily activities.
Maintaining normal ROM is crucial for the maintenance of your body.
Maintaining normal ROM helps:
– Maintain stability and the correct bio mechanic function of joints.
– Prevent soft tissue injuries during physical activity.
– Minimise the impact of arthritis.
– Reduce the incidence of aches and pains caused by tension.
– Decrease pressure on joint structures, thereby minimising wear and tear.
Basic full body stretching is one of the easiest ways to maintain normal ROM. I recommend stretching 2-3 times per week. I have written Simply Stretch to provide people with a simple full body stretching routine. Purchase a copy here
What to do if you have a problem with your ROM?
Because excessive ROM is normally a natural, genetic condition, most people with excessive ROM will be like that for life. Controlling correct bio mechanics (E.g. Don’t lock your knees) by understanding how you should stabilize and move your joints is a key component to managing excessive ROM. Maintaining good muscle strength to support the joints, and maintain bone density will minimise long term wear and tear.
When there has been no specific injury, and the restriction has developed progressively because of insufficient movement, regular stretching will achieve a progressive return to normal ROM.
When stress and/or physical activity has caused excessive muscle tension resulting in a restriction in ROM massage can be very effective at reducing this tension, thereby allowing an increase in ROM.
When an injury or disease pathology has caused a restriction in ROM, physiotherapy and/or remedial massage is appropriate treatment. Your physical therapist can treat the problem directly and prescribe specific exercises to rehabilitate the problem. These exercises fall into 3 categories:
- Passive ROM: A therapist may use this type of exercise when a person is paralysed or unable to mobilize a specific joint after a serious injury. The therapist performs the exercises with no assistance from the client.
- Assisted Active ROM: These 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.
- Active ROM: These exercises are performed solely by the client. The physical therapist’s role is to provide verbal cues and correct technique.
By Simon Ayling
Chevron Island Physio