Limited range of motion

Limited range of motion is a reduction in the normal distance and direction through which a joint can move.

Range of motion is the natural distance and direction of movement of a joint. Limited range of motion is a relative term indicating that a specific joint or body part cannot move through its normal and full range of motion.

Motion may be limited by a mechanical problem within the joint that prevents it from moving beyond a certain point, by swelling of tissue around the joint, by spasticity of the muscles, or by pain.

Diseases that prevent a joint from fully extending may, over time, produce contracture deformities, causing permanent inability to extend the joint beyond a certain fixed position.

Common Causes

Home Care
Your health care provider may recommend range of motion exercises, designed to increase muscle strength and flexibility. Continue these exercises at home.

Call your health care provider if

Visit your health care provider if a joint does not move fully and easily in its normal manner. If a joint develops (new) changes in its ability to move, the affected part should be examined to determine the cause.

What to expect at your health care provider’s office

The health care provider will perform a physical examination and will obtain your medical history.

Medical history questions documenting limited range of motion in detail may include the following:

  • Time pattern: When did it start?  
  • Quality: How bad is it?  
  • Location       o Where is it exactly?       o Is it only in one location?  
  • Other       o Do you also have pain?       o What other symptoms are present?

Note: Limited range of motion may be discovered by the health care provider during an examination for other conditions, and the affected person may or may not have been aware of its presence.

The muscular system, nervous system, and skeleton may be examined in detail. Depending on the cause, diagnostic tests may be necessary, including the following:

  • Joint X-rays  
  • Spine X-rays  
  • Tests for the suspected cause

Physical therapy may be recommended.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 6, 2012
by Simon D. Mitin, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.