Types of Range of Motion

According to the Merck Manual, when restricted, your range of motion (ROM)–the degree of joint movement that you can perform–can cause you pain or discomfort and interfere with your ability to perform your activities of daily living. The Merck Manual notes that your ROM may decrease as you age, although this change usually does not prevent healthy, active seniors from performing self-care activities. To preserve your joint ROM as you age, consider performing stretching activities on a regular basis.

Active ROM

SportsAndSpinalPhysio.com states that you perform active ROM when you move a body part or segment–and its associated joint–on your own, without the help or support of another person. Types of active ROM include flexion, extension, rotation, lateral flexion and circumduction, some or all of which may be performed in the following joints or areas: your cervical spine, lumbar spine, fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, ankles, toes and jaw. Each of these types of active ROM have their own range of normal or accepted values that describe, quantitatively, the typical number of degrees through which you should be able to move that joint. An inability to move your body’s segments and their corresponding joints through what’s considered a normal active ROM may indicate the presence of a musculoskeletal condition, such as a muscle strain, an impingement syndrome or the presence of scar tissue and adhesions in your muscles or connective tissue.

Passive ROM

Like active ROM, passive ROM defines the extent to which your body parts and their associated joints can be moved in multiple directions. However, unlike active ROM, passive ROM occurs when your body parts and joints are moved by somebody else, without you expending any effort to assist the movement. Passive ROM may seem unimportant, especially compared to your ability to actively move your body’s segments and joints through a full, dynamic active ROM, but passive ROM can provide your health care provider–such as a chiropractor or physical therapist–with valuable information about the tone of your tissues, which tissues may be involved in an injury and whether any fixations are present in your spinal or extremity joints. If your health care provider assesses your passive ROM and this causes you to experience pain, it’s likely that you’re experiencing a ligament sprain, not a muscle strain, as passive ROM stretches non-contractile connective tissues, such as your ligaments.

Segmental ROM

Segmental ROM is both an active and passive measure of joint ROM that refers specifically to the joints in your cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine and pelvis. Segmental ROM, which your health care provider assesses by static or motion palpation, is helpful in evaluating your spinal structure and alignment, and is an indicator of your spinal joint health and function. Segmental ROM refers to the ROM between two adjacent vertebral segments, and is governed by your facet joints (the spinal joints, which are responsible for the majority of your spinal segmental ROM), your intervertebral discs and the small muscles and ligaments that attach to or bind your vertebral segments. A manual medicine practitioner will assess your spine’s segmental ROM to scan for fixations or areas of hypomobility between your vertebrae. If present, these areas will be targeted for treatment using manipulation or mobilization techniques.

About this Author

Martin Hughes is a chiropractic physician and freelance writer based out of Durham, N.C. He writes about health, fitness, diet, lifestyle, travel and outdoor pursuits. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in kinesiology at the University of Waterloo and his doctoral degree from Western States Chiropractic College in Portland, Ore.