There is always a lot of talk about specific exercises for certain injuries or rehab protocols for different muscle groups.  One theory that has emerged in the last few years looks at the reason why many injuries happen, and that theory revolves around having an inaccurate range of motion. 

 The dancer above would not be able to move the way she does if she did not have full ankle planter flexion and toe flexion, knee flexion, hip flexion and extension, spinal extension, shoulder flexion, abduction and extension and finger flexion.

What Does Range of Motion Mean?

Range of motion refers to the amount of motion one particular joint can move within.  All joints have a documented angle of movement for all of the motions it can move within. 

Several joints have 6 ranges of motion; flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, internal rotation and external rotation.  The wording of the motion may vary depending on the joint.  

Reasons For Loss Of Range Of Motion

There are several factors that can contribute to a loss of range of motion. 
Some of these include: 
  • Muscle tightness
  • Tendon injury
  • Muscle tear
  • Joint arthritis
  • Fractures
  • Pathology
  • Infection
The  most common causes have to do with the muscles that are moving the joint.  If we can maintain adequate joint mobility within its full or near full range of motion we can prevent injury down the road. 

Range of Motion at the Gym

I have a very hard time not correcting people's form when I am at the gym.  Often people try to lift or load too much weight and as they go through the exercise movement they can't complete the full range of motion. 

So in this instance, decrease the load... you will not work the muscle properly if you can't do the motion.  If you can't do the motion with no load, you shouldn't load it!  You may have heard me make this statement in the clinic.  

Assessing Range of Motion

Working on range of motion can be very easy, or you can step it up a notch and make it very isolated and thus very difficult.  Easily done in the comfort of your home, you can simply take your joints through their natural range of motion starting at your feet and moving up the kinetic chain to your neck. 

While you try this you will notice where you may feel tighter or perhaps lock up.  Follow the guided full body range of motion movements below and take note of any ranges you may feel more restricted, painful or tighter.  This would be a very good exercise routine to do daily or prior to any physical activity.  

Toe Range of Motion Exercises

Toe curls: You can do this simple exercise first thing in the morning while you’re still lying in bed. Slowly, curl all your toes in toward the sole of your foot, then extend them out toward the ceiling. You can do one foot at a time or both feet at the same time.

Ankle Range of Motion Exercises

Dorsiflexion: When seated, maintain good posture and keep your heels on the ground. Then try to raise your toes up toward your shins. Go slowly, trying to get your toes as high as possible while your heels are firmly planted on the ground.

Plantar Flexion: This is the opposite range of motion from dorsiflexion. When seated, maintain good posture with your feet on the floor. Then pretend as though you’re stepping on a gas pedal, pushing your toes down and bringing your heels off the ground.

Ankle Circles: While seated, move your ankle slowly in clockwise circles, as though there’s a pencil between your toes and you’re trying to write the letter “O.” Then go the opposite way and make counterclockwise circles.

Knee Range of Motion Exercises

Ball Kicks: You can do this either sitting or standing, depending on your comfort level. If seated, keep both feet flat on the floor. Then raise one leg out as though you were trying to kick a ball. Straighten your leg, aiming to get your foot in line with your knee so your leg makes a straight line parallel to the floor. If you have knee pain, you will not be able to get to that straight line right away; it’s something you will aim to work up to over time.

Glute Kicks: While standing, bend your knee and try to bring your heel to touch your glutes (butt muscle). You may want to lean on a sturdy countertop or desk for support.

Toe Turns: In a seated position, slide your big counter clockwise as far as it will go and then turn it clockwise in the other direction.  The motion is moving your ankle and foot, but also turning your tibia to take your knee through internal and external rotation.  

Hip Range of Motion Exercises

Leg Raises: Hold on to the back of a countertop or chair for support with your right hand. Then raise your left leg slowly in front of you, aiming to get it parallel to the ground. Note: This move is challenging even for people without arthritis or hip issues; just keep your leg in a straight line and try to get it as high as you can. Do as many as you can (up to 10) and then switch to the other leg.

Standing Jacks: Standing with your right arm holding onto a chair or countertop for support, raise your left leg out to the side, as though you’re doing the bottom half of a jumping jack. Do as many as you can (up to 10) and then switch to the other leg.

Cross-Body Leg Raises: To work your hip joint in the opposite direction, stand with your right arm holding onto a chair or countertop for support. Raise your left leg forward and to the right, so it crosses your midline. Do this slowly and try to raise your leg steadily; you’ll feel a slight tension in your hip, which is normal. Do as many as you can (up to 10) and then switch to the other leg.

Spinal Range of Motion Exercises

Toe touch to back bend:   In a standing position, reach forward and touch your toes, keeping your knees straight.  As you stand back up, place your hands on your hips and lean backwards.  Keep in mind, if you have back issues, these motions may cause some pain.  If you experience pain, work within your pain-free range of motion.  

Side bends:  Standing tall, lean over to one side sliding your hand down the side of your thigh to your knee.  Come back up and repeat on the other side.  

Spinal twists:  In a standing or seated position, place your arms to your sides and twist your body to one side so your one arm rotates out to the front of you and the other arm is behind you.  Twist to the other side.  

Upper spine arching:  With your arms out to the front of you at shoulder height, flex your middle spine by forming a "C" shape pushing out behind you.  Then, bring your arms out to your sides while pushing your chest out to the front of you creating extension in the middle spine.  

Shoulder Range of Motion Exercises

Arms to the sky: Standing or sitting, keep your arms hanging loosely by your sides. Raise your arms forward as hight as you can raise them while keeping the elbows straight.  Aim to bring your arms in line with your ears.  If you can't get there, notice your angle you can raise to and then slowly try to move higher.  

Arm Kick-Backs: Standing or sitting, keep your arms hanging loosely by your sides. Push your arms back behind you (as though you were holding ski poles) and gently squeeze your shoulder blades together. You’ll feel a little pressure in your triceps muscles.

T Raises: Standing or sitting, keep your arms hanging loosely by your sides. Raise your arms out to each side toward shoulder height, and then up to your ears.

Arm Circles: Raising your arms out to the sides toward shoulder height, move them gently and slowly in small circles.

Elbow Range of Motion Exercises

Weightless Bicep Curls: Sitting or standing with your arms hanging loosely by your sides, bring the palms of your hands up toward your shoulders, then slowly and deliberately lower them back down, as though you’re doing a bicep curl without weights.

Wrist Range of Motion Exercises

Wrist Curls: With your hands in gentle fists, curl the palms of your hands back toward your forearms. Then go in the opposite direction. Curl your hands down, as though you’re trying to curl your knuckles toward your arms.

Neck Range of Motion Exercises

Neck Motion: In a seated or standing position, bring your chin to your chest, then bring your head back to neutral and then look up to the ceiling.  Coming back to neutral, lean your ear to one shoulder (without raising your shoulder), then up and over to the other shoulder.  From neutral, turn your head to one side, then over to the other side.  

In all of these exercises, do as many as you feel comfortable doing using 10 as a guide.  If you can do more comfortably, then go for it.  If 10 is too much, please try to work up to this number.  In addition, if you experience pain during any of these exercises, please see your healthcare provider.