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 to the bones within a joint. This may happen if you have:

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

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

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

    Your doctor or nurse may suggest exercises to increase muscle strength and flexibility.

  • When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Make an appointment with your doctor or nurse if you have difficulty moving or extending a joint.

  • What to Expect at Your Office Visit

    The doctor or nurse will examine you and ask you 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...    


Dudek N, Trudel G. Joint contractures. In: Frontera, WR, Silver JK, Rizzo TD Jr, eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 117.

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

Arend WP, Lawry GV. Approach to the patient with rheumatic disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 264.


Review Date: 8/14/2012  

Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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