How to Assess Range of Motion

Assessing range of motion is measuring the movement of the joints in the body during flexion or extension. Assessment is done in order to gauge how functional the movement in a joint is. Injuries such as breaks or spinal cord damage, diseases like arthritis, infections and severe burns are examples of conditions that can limit range of motion. A physician, physical therapist or occupational therapist may take this measurement at the beginning of treatment and as treatment proceeds to see if there is any improvement or decreased movement in the joint. This will help to gauge what type of treatment is needed or if adjustments need to be made to the existing treatment.

How to Assess Range of Motion

Use a goniometer to measure the range of motion of the joint in question. This tool works like a compass and ruler combined. One arm of the goniometer remains stationary next to or on top of the joint being measured. The moving arm measures the range of motion in each joint as the joint moves.

Measure active range of motion by placing the goniometer on or beside the joint and having the patient or person you are measuring move the joint by himself, flexing the elbow or knee for example.

Measure passive range of motion by having a person other than the one with the joints being measured move the limb for her. This may be done because she is unable to move it at all, as in the case of something like spinal cord injury. She may have limited capacity because of pain, illness, swelling and so forth. This limits the ability to move the joint to its full range. Gauging it gives a therapist or doctor a more realistic look at what the actual range of motion the joint has and what course of treatment to take.

Use the goniometer to measure free active movement. Free active movement is the range of motion the joint has with no outside resistance.

Measure resisted range of motion by providing more stress on the joint. An example would be pushing against the finger as the person tries to bend or straighten it, or by adding an external source of pressure: weights, for example.