Health Information

Limited range of motion

Limited range of motion


Limited range of motion is a term meaning that a joint or body part cannot move through its normal range of motion.

Motion may be limited because of a problem within the joint, swelling of tissue around the joint, stiffness of the muscles, or pain.

I Would Like to Learn About:

  • Considerations

    Motion may be limited because of a problem within the joint, swelling of tissue around the joint, stiffness of the muscles, or pain.

  • Causes

    A sudden loss of range of motion may be due to:

    • Dislocation of a joint
    • Fracture of an elbow or other joint
    • Septic or infected joint (hip is most common in children)
    • Legg-Calve-Perthes disease (in boys 4 to 10 years old)
    • Nursemaid's elbow, an injury to the elbow joint (in young children)

    Loss of motion may occur if you damage the bones within a joint. This may happen if you have:

    • Ankylosing spondylitis
    • Broken a joint bone in the past
    • Frozen shoulder
    • Osteoarthritis
    • Rheumatoid arthritis

    Brain, nerve, or muscle disorders can damage the nerves, tendons, and muscles, and can cause loss of motion. Some of these disorders include:

    • Cerebral palsy
    • Congenital torticollis
    • Muscular dystrophy
    • Stroke or brain injury
    • Volkmann contracture
  • Home Care

    Your health care provider may suggest exercises to increase muscle strength and flexibility.

  • When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Make an appointment with your health care provider if you have difficulty moving or extending a joint.

  • What to Expect at Your Office Visit

    The provider will examine you and ask about your medical history and symptoms.

    You may need joint x-rays and spine x-rays. Laboratory tests may be done.

    Physical therapy may be recommended.

Related Information

  SwellingSpasticityContracture deform...    


Campbell M, Dudek N, Trudel G. Joint contractures. In: Frontera WR, Silver JK, Rizzo TD Jr, eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2014:chap 126.

Comeau D, Heaton K, Gordon A. Rheumatology and musculoskeletal problems. In: Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 32.


Review Date: 9/8/2014  

Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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