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There are 10 possible causes of limited range of motion

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Limited Range of Motion

Joint range of motion refers to both the distance a joint can move and the direction in which it can move. There are established ranges that are considered normal for various joints in the body. For example, according to The Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals, the knee should ideally be able to flex (bend) to an angle of 130 degrees. It should be able to be extended so that it is completely straight (Merck & Co., Inc., 2009).

A reduction in normal range of motion in any of the joints is known as limited range of motion. Joint range of motion naturally declines as you age, but it can also occur along with a number of conditions. Certain exercises may be helpful in improving and maintaining flexibility in the joints.

What Conditions Can Cause Limited Range of Motion in the Joints?

Medical Conditions

Medical conditions associated with limited range of motion in the joints include:

  • ankylosing spondylitis, a type of arthritis that primarily affects the spine
  • osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis related to older age and wear-and-tear to the joints
  • rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune form of arthritis caused by your immune system attacking your joints
  • juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune form of arthritis that occurs in children under the age of 16 years
  • cerebral palsy, a group of neurological disorders that causes muscle paralysis and loss of body control
  • the congenital form of torticollis, a stiff neck associated with muscle spasms
  • Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, a disorder that causes the thighbone to die because of lack of blood flow to the joint
  • septic hip (and other septic joints), a bacterial infection of the joints
  • syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection (STI)

Other Causes

It is not only medical conditions that can restrict range of motion. The following may also lead to reduced flexibility in one or more joints:

  • inflammation of the soft tissues surrounding the joint (joint swelling)
  • muscle stiffness
  • pain
  • joint dislocation
  • elbow fractures or fractures in other areas of the body

When to See Your Doctor About Restricted Joint

When to Make an Appointment

See your doctor about any reductions in the normal range of motion of your joints. Make an appointment if you cannot fully straighten or bend one or more joints, or find you are experiencing difficulty moving certain joint(s).

Something to note is that people aren’t always aware of their own limited range of motion. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), it may be identified during a visit for another condition or symptom (NIH, 2010).

The Appointment: What Will Likely Happen?

Your initial appointment will likely consist of a physical examination. This will include an assessment of the affected joints. Your doctor may ask questions about your limited range of motion, such as:

  • When did the problem first start?
  • Are you experiencing discomfort?
  • Where is it occurring?
  • Are you having any other symptoms?

Your doctor may also assess the function of your bones, muscles, and/or nervous system.

As a follow-up, tests may also be scheduled. Two commonly ordered tests are X-rays of the spine and joints.

Your doctor may recommend a course of physical therapy designed to enhance range of motion.

What Are the Potential Consequences of Limited Range of Motion?

In some cases, the position of the joint may become permanently fixed. This means you will no longer be able to move the joint past a given point. These are known as contracture deformities. According to the NIH, conditions associated with this complication include:

  • cerebral palsy
  • muscular dystrophy, an inherited disease involving muscle weakness
  • Dupuytren’s contracture, a thickening of the tissue layer beneath the skin in the hands and wrist
  • Volkmann’s contracture, a lack of blood flow to the forearm causes the muscles in the arm to shorten

How Can Optimal Range of Motion in the Joints Be Maintained?

Range of motion exercises are designed specifically to enhance joint flexibility. Range of motion exercises may be done as part of formal sessions with a physical therapist. However, your doctor or physical therapist may also tell you about exercises that you can easily do at home. These can help you maintain or improve joint flexibility, which is associated with overall freedom and ease of movement.

They can be divided into three general categories: active, active assistive, and passive.

Active

These exercises are done without the assistance of another person.

Active Assistive

These exercises rely on the combined effort of the individual and another person (often a physical therapist). They are often used when it is painful for the individual to flex or extend the joint.

Passive

These rely completely on the effort of the physical therapist or another individual. The person with limited range of motion does not need to do anything. These are typically used because the person being treated is not physically able to perform the movements that are part of the range of motion exercise(s).

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Possible Causes - Listed in order from the most common to the least.

1

What Is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) occurs when this cartilage (which provides a cushion for bones) wears away. It can occur in any joint in the body, but most commonly affects the knees, hips, spine, and hands.

Read more »

2

Rheumatoid Arthritis Overview

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease, a disease in which the immune system mistakes the body's own cells for invaders. In RA, the immune system attacks the synovia, the membranes lining the joints.

Read more »

3

Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is a form of chronic arthritis that affects children. It is a long-term autoimmune condition characterized by stiffness and swelling in the joints. Most cases of JRA are mild.

Read more »

4

Rotator Cuff Tendinitis

Rotator cuff tendinitis affects the tendons and muscles that help move the shoulder joint. Tendinitis means that these tendons are inflamed or irritated. Symptoms of this condition usually worsen over time.

Read more »

5

Gout Overview

More than 8 million Americans suffer from gout, and incidence of the disease has increased by about half in the last 20 years. Explore our gout learning center and learn more.

Read more »

6

Fracture

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A fracture is a broken bone that typically occurs when a bone is impacted by more force or pressure than it can support. In an open fracture, the ends of the broken bone tear the skin.

Read more »

7

Wry Neck (Torticollis)

Wry neck (Torticollis) is a tilted and twisted neck that can be congenital or result from muscle injury, swollen lymph nodes, ear infection, or other causes.

Read more »

8

Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of arthritis that primarily affects your spine. It causes severe inflammation of the vertebrae that might eventually lead to chronic pain and disability.

Read more »

9

Baker's (Popliteal) Cyst

A popliteal cyst, also known as a baker's cyst, is a fluid-filled swelling that causes a lump at the back of the knee.

Read more »

10

Axillary Nerve Dysfunction

Axillary nerve dysfunction (AND) or injury is also called neuropathy of the axillary nerve. It describes a loss of movement or lack of sensation in the shoulder area of the body. Stress or damage to the axillary nerve...

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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