Joint Movements & Mobility

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, we introduce anatomical terminology for joint movement and the normal ranges of motion for various joints.


Become familiar with foundational terminology related to joint movements, learn factors that affect joint mobility, and review the normal ranges of motion for various joints.


Define Range of Motion (ROM). Explain who defines ROM standards, and why. Understand how joints are affected by over-stretching and the effects of diminished ROM. Describe the importance of joint mobility in asana practice. Name and describe the movements of each of these joints: ankles, knees, hips, spine, wrists, elbows, shoulders, scapula and neck. Give the established normal ranges of motion for each.

ROM & ROM Standards

What is ROM?

  • Joints move because muscles contract and move them.
  • Range of motion (ROM) refers to mobility of each joint through its various directions of movement.

What are ROM Standards?

  • Specialists in orthopedics, physical therapy and related fields often utilize standards that define normal range of motion.
  • The “standards” differ somewhat according to source.
  • The intention is to define an ideal range in which movement maintains the flow of synovial fluid (which lubricates the joints) and promotes strength and flexibility of the related muscles.

Joint Mobility

A joint’s mobility is affected by the muscles around it. Healthy ROM may be exceeded by:

  1. Overstretching
  2. Poor posture
  3. Injury
  4. Skeletal issues

When healthy ROM is exceeded, “the joint becomes hyperextended, less stable and potentially more vulnerable to injury.” (Mukunda Stiles)

When inactivity or poor posture causes diminished ROM, “the resulting rigidity in the joints and… muscles supporting it places more stress on neighboring joints and muscles.” (Mukunda Stiles)

The Importance in Asana Practice

An objective for asana is to move the joints through their range of motion, thereby lubricating the joints as well as developing and maintaining strength and flexibility of muscles around the joint.

What Is Joint Play and Why Is It Important?

In order to move, the capsule and the ligaments around the joint must have a certain amount of laxity, or joint play. Joint play means that the structures are loose on one side of the joint to facilitate movement on the opposite side… A certain amount of… joint play is necessary in order to allow for normal movement. If both sides of the joint capsule are taut, movement is greatly impeded. – Judith Lasater

A Joint is Only as Healthy as Muscles Surrounding It

While a few joints in the body are immovable or slightly movable, most of the joints are “freely movable” and have elaborate structures. Their complexity is one reason they’re particularly vulnerable to injury. A joint is only as healthy as the muscles surrounding it. Relaxed, flexible muscles lead to a more mobile joint. – Larry Payne

Joint Movements


  1. Plantarflexion – pointing toes
  2. Dorsiflexion – drawing toes back toward knee
  3. Eversion – outer edge of foot draws toward head
  4. Inversion – inner edge of foot draws toward head
  5. Rotation – circling of ankles


  1. Flexion – bending knee
  2. Extension – straightening knee
  3. Rotation (During Flexion) – while sitting in chair with feet under knees, turning foot outward and inward


  1. External Rotation – outward rotation of thighbone within hip socket
  2. Internal Rotation – inward rotation of thigh; comes from glutes
  3. Extension – from hands and knees, back of leg rises toward sky
  4. Flexion – from hands and knees, round to take knee to nose
  5. Adduction – draw leg across centerline of body
  6. Abduction – take leg out away from midline of body


  1. Forward bend
  2. Backbend
  3. Side bend to the left
  4. Side bend to the right
  5. Twist to the left
  6. Twist to the right

See Spinal Movements


  1. Flexion – take palm toward body
  2. Extension – make the stop motion with hand
  3. Radial deviation – from straight wrist, palm up, turn thumb side toward torso
  4. Ulnar deviation – from straight wrist, palm up, turn pinky side toward torso
  5. Rotation – circle wrists


  1. Extension – straighten arms
  2. Flexion – bend arms


  1. Abduction – lift arms out to side
  2. Adduction – hands to shoulders, draw elbows toward one another
  3. External Rotation – “goal post” arms, palms facing forward
  4. Internal Rotation – “goal post” arms, rotate palms down to face back
  5. Flexion – raise arms upward
  6. Extension – draw arms back behind body


  1. Adduction – squeeze shoulder blades
  2. Abduction – round thoracic spine


  1. Extension – drop head back
  2. Flexion – take chin to chest
  3. Lateral flexion both directions – draw ear toward shoulder
  4. Lateral rotation both directions – turn chin toward shoulder

For images and key muscles, see Biomechanics: Key Muscles Pairs in Movement

Range of Motion Norms

The following range of motion norms are from Structural Yoga Therapy.


  • Ankle Dorsiflexion 20° — Plantarflexion 50°
  • Ankle Eversion 20° — Ankle Inversion 45°
  • Ankle Rotation — combines previous motions


  • Knee Extension 180° — Knee Flexion 150°


  • Hip External Rotation 45-60° — Hip Internal Rotation 35°
  • Hip Extension 30° — Hip Flexion 135°
  • Hip Adduction 30-40° — Hip Abduction 45°


  • Spine Extension – No standard; “from a yogic point of view, we look for symmetry and fullness in backbending and for a lengthening of the spinal column”
  • Spine Flexion — No standard; “A yogic view is that, if the tone of the spine flexors is balanced to the opposing muscles, the erector spinae, the spine arcs evenly, creating a symmetrical semicircle.”
  • Spine Lateral Flexion not established (“though it appears to be 45°”)
  • Spine Rotation not established (“shoulder girdle 45°”)


  • Wrist Flexion 90° — Wrist Extension 80°
  • Radial Deviation 20° — Ulnar Deviation 30°
  • Wrist Rotation – combination of four preceding motions


  • Elbow Extension 0° (straight line) — Elbow Flexion 145°


  • Shoulder Abduction 40° — Shoulder adduction 130°
  • Shoulder External Rotation 90° — Shoulder internal rotation 80°
  • Shoulder Flexion 180° — Shoulder Extension 50°
  • Scapula Adduction not established — Scapula Abduction not established


  • Neck Extension 55° — Neck Flexion 45°
  • Neck Lateral Flexion 45° — Neck Lateral Rotation 70°