Range of Motion (ROM): Definition and What it is

Medically and clinically reviewed by Jonathan Lee, MD and Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT

Range of Motion Definition and Meaning

The term "range of motion" (ROM) refers to the amount of movement that a particular joint or series of joints can achieve in a specific direction. Range of motion is a measure of joint functionality and flexibility. When you have good range of motion in your shoulder, for instance, you should be able to do things like reach overhead and behind you, and rotate the arm down and up without pain. For your knee, this means being able to straighten it completely and bend it past 90 degrees toward your butt (about 135° fully). 

Range of motion is typically expressed in degrees and can be an important part of health assessments, particularly in physical therapy. Range of motion usually comes into play if you’ve injured a joint or are dealing with stiffness due to muscle tightness or conditions like arthritis. When range of motion in a joint is limited, you might find certain activities more difficult, like having trouble putting a shirt on over your head, picking up something off the floor, tying your shoes, or getting up and down from the floor or a low chair. 

Range of Motion Examples

When it comes to range of motion, there are a few terms you’ll want to be familiar with: 

  • Flexion, or bending

  • Extension, or often straightening

  • Rotation, or moving in a joint in a circular pattern

  • Abduction, or moving arms or legs away from the midline of the body (like when arms are in a T shape)

  • Adduction, or moving arms or legs toward the midline of the body (like giving yourself a hug)

These all relate to how well joints can move through certain planes. In the elbow joint, for example, range of motion refers to the extent to which an arm can be straightened (extension) and bent (flexion). The shoulder, however, can move through several planes, so it has capabilities for flexion, extension, rotation, abduction, and adduction. When you have a full range of motion in a joint, it allows you to do all sorts of reaching, bending, and rotating with greater ease. Good range of motion also helps protect against injuries, like sprains and strains

Factors Affecting Range of Motion

Various factors can affect your ROM, such as muscle length, joint structure, and injuries or conditions. Conditions like arthritis can limit range of motion due to joint stiffness. Sprains in ligaments and strains in tendons can also limit range of motion, as can conditions like tendinitis or bursitis. 

For instance, if you sprain your knee, you may notice that you’re not able to bend or extend it as far as you normally would. A rotator cuff injury may limit the range of motion in your shoulder, making it harder to rotate your arm fully to put on a jacket, reach for things overhead, or lift something heavy.

Range of Motion: A Hinge Health Perspective

While injuries that affect range of motion can be frustrating and feel limiting, there’s a lot you can do to improve the function and flexibility of your joints with targeted stretches and exercise. In physical therapy, one of the most important goals is to help restore function and health so you can improve your quality of life and get back to the activities you enjoy. Often, range-of-motion exercises and stretches can help because they’re designed to improve mobility and function. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.

Range of Motion in Daily Life

Improving your range of motion is not just for athletes or those in physical therapy. A good range of motion can make daily activities easier and more comfortable, such as reaching for objects on a high shelf or bending down to pick something up from the floor.

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you. 

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. 

Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.


  1. Schulz, B. July 2, 2021. Why Range-of-Motion Matters, Especially for Athletes and Weekend Warriors. Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute. https://kerlanjobe.org/why-range-of-motion-matters-especially-for-athletes-and-weekend-warriors/ 

  2. Usman, S. (n.d.). Range of Motion. Physiopedia. https://www.physio-pedia.com/Range_of_Motion 

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