Anatomical terms of motion

Last updated

Motion, the process of movement, is described using specific anatomical terms. Motion includes movement of organs, joints, limbs, and specific sections of the body. The terminology used describes this motion according to its direction relative to the anatomical position of the joints. Anatomists use a unified set of terms to describe most of the movements, although other, more specialized terms are necessary for describing the uniqueness of the movements such as those of the hands, feet, and eyes.


In general, motion is classified according to the anatomical plane it occurs in. Flexion and extension are examples of angular motions, in which two axes of a joint are brought closer together or moved further apart. Rotational motion may occur at other joints, for example the shoulder, and are described as internal or external. Other terms, such as elevation and depression, describe movement above or below the horizontal plane. Many anatomical terms derive from Latin terms with the same meaning.


Motions are classified after the anatomical planes they occur in, [1] although movement is more often than not a combination of different motions occurring simultaneously in several planes. [2] Motions can be split into categories relating to the nature of the joints involved:

Apart from this motions can also be divided into:

The study of movement is known as kinesiology. [4] A categoric list of movements of the human body and the muscles involved can be found at list of movements of the human body.

Abnormal motion

The prefix hyper- is sometimes added to describe movement beyond the normal limits, such as in hypermobility , hyperflexion or hyperextension. The range of motion describes the total range of motion that a joint is able to do. [5] For example, if a part of the body such as a joint is overstretched or "bent backwards" because of exaggerated extension motion, then it can be described as hyperextended. Hyperextension increases the stress on the ligaments of a joint, and is not always because of a voluntary movement. It may be a result of accidents, falls, or other causes of trauma. It may also be used in surgery, such as in temporarily dislocating joints for surgical procedures. [6] Or it may be used as a pain compliance method to force a person to take a certain action, such as allowing a police officer to take him into custody.

General motion

These are general terms that can be used to describe most movements the body makes. Most terms have a clear opposite, and so are treated in pairs. [7]

Flexion and extension

Flexion and extension FlexsionExtension2017.jpeg
Flexion and extension

Flexion and extension describe movements that affect the angle between two parts of the body. These terms come from the Latin words with the same meaning. [lower-alpha 1]

Flexion describes a bending movement that decreases the angle between a segment and its proximal segment. [9] For example, bending the elbow, or clenching a hand into a fist, are examples of flexion. When a person is sitting down, the knees are flexed. When a joint can move forward and backward, such as the neck and trunk, flexion is movement in the anterior direction. [10] When the chin is against the chest, the head is flexed, and the trunk is flexed when a person leans forward. [10] Flexion of the shoulder or hip is movement of the arm or leg forward. [11]

Extension is the opposite of flexion, describing a straightening movement that increases the angle between body parts. [12] For example, when standing up, the knees are extended. When a joint can move forward and backward, such as the neck and trunk, extension is movement in the posterior direction. [10] Extension of the hip or shoulder moves the arm or leg backward. [11]

Abduction and adduction

Abduction and adduction Body Movements I (cropped AbAd).jpg
Abduction and adduction

Abduction is the motion of a structure away from the midline while adduction refer to motion towards the center of the body. [13] The centre of the body is defined as the midsagittal plane. [3] These terms come from Latin words with similar meanings, ab- being the Latin prefix indicating "away," ad- indicating "toward," and ducere meaning "to draw or pull". [lower-alpha 2]

Abduction is a motion that pulls a structure or part away from the midline of the body. In the case of fingers and toes, it is spreading the digits apart, away from the centerline of the hand or foot. Abduction of the wrist is also called radial deviation. [13] For example, raising the arms up, such as when tightrope-walking, is an example of abduction at the shoulder. [11] When the legs are splayed at the hip, such as when doing a star jump or doing a split, the legs are abducted at the hip. [3]

Adduction is a motion that pulls a structure or part toward the midline of the body, or towards the midline of a limb. In the case of fingers and toes, it is bringing the digits together, towards the centerline of the hand or foot. Adduction of the wrist is also called ulnar deviation. Dropping the arms to the sides, and bringing the knees together, are examples of adduction. [13]

Ulnar deviation is the hand moving towards the ulnar styloid (or, towards the pinky/fifth digit). Radial deviation is the hand moving towards the radial styloid (or, towards the thumb/first digit). [15]

Elevation and depression

The terms elevation and depression refer to movement above and below the horizontal. They derive from the Latin terms with similar meanings [lower-alpha 3]

Elevation is movement in a superior direction. [17] For example, shrugging is an example of elevation of the scapula. [18]

Depression is movement in an inferior direction, the opposite of elevation. [19]


Rotation Body Movements I (cropped rotation).jpg

Rotation of body parts is referred to as internal or external, referring to rotation towards or away from the center of the body. [20]

Internal rotation (or medial rotation) is rotation towards the axis of the body. [20]

External rotation (or lateral rotation) is rotation away from the center of the body. [20]


Special motion

Hands and feet

Flexion and extension of the foot

Dorsiflexion and plantar flexion refer to extension or flexion of the foot at the ankle. These terms refer to flexion in direction of the "back" of the foot, which is the upper surface of the foot when standing, and flexion in direction of the sole of the foot. These terms are used to resolve confusion, as technically extension of the joint is dorsiflexion, which could be considered counter-intuitive as the motion reduces the angle between the foot and the leg. [25]

Dorsiflexion is where the toes are brought closer to the shin. This decreases the angle between the dorsum of the foot and the leg. [26] For example, when walking on the heels the ankle is described as being in dorsiflexion. [25]

Plantar flexion or plantarflexion is the movement which decreases the angle between the sole of the foot and the back of the leg; for example, the movement when depressing a car pedal or standing on tiptoes. [25]

Flexion and extension of the hand

Palmarflexion and dorsiflexion refer to movement of the flexion (palmarflexion) or extension (dorsiflexion) of the hand at the wrist. [27] These terms refer to flexion between the hand and the body's dorsal surface, which in anatomical position is considered the back of the arm; and flexion between the hand and the body's palmar surface, which in anatomical position is considered the anterior side of the arm. [28] The direction of terms are opposite to those in the foot because of embryological rotation of the limbs in opposite directions. [10]

Palmarflexion is decreasing the angle between the palm and the anterior forearm. [27]

Dorsiflexion is extension at the ankle or wrist joint. This brings the hand closer to the dorsum of the body. [27]

Pronation and supination

Pronation and supination refer generally to the prone (facing down) or supine (facing up) positions. In the extremities, they refer rotation of the forearm or foot so that in the standard anatomical position the palm or sole is facing anteriorly when in supination and posteriorly when in pronation. [29] . As an example, when a person is typing on a computer keyboard, his hands are pronated; when washing his face, they are supinated.

Pronation at the forearm is a rotational movement where the hand and upper arm are turned so the thumbs point towards the body. When the forearm and hand are supinated, the thumbs point away from the body. Pronation of the foot is turning of the sole outwards, so that weight is borne on the medial part of the foot. [30]

Supination of the forearm occurs when the forearm or palm are rotated outwards. Supination of the foot is turning of the sole of the foot inwards, shifting weight to the lateral edge. [31]

Inversion and eversion

Inversion and eversion refer to movements that tilt the sole of the foot away from (eversion) or towards (inversion) the midline of the body. [32]

Eversion is the movement of the sole of the foot away from the median plane. [33] Inversion is the movement of the sole towards the median plane. For example, inversion describes the motion when an ankle is twisted. [26]


Unique terminology is also used to describe the eye. For example:

Jaw and teeth


Other terms include:

See also


  1. "to stretch out" (Latin: extendere), "to bend" Latin: flectere) [8]
  2. "to bring in" (Latin: adductere), "to lead away" Latin: abducere [14]
  3. "press down" (Latin: deprimere), "to raise" (Latin: elevare) [16]
  4. "to nod" (Latin: Nutare) [38]

Related Research Articles

Human leg lower extremity or limb of the human body (foot, lower leg, thigh and hip)

The human leg, in the general word sense, is the entire lower limb of the human body, including the foot, thigh and even the hip or gluteal region. However, the definition in human anatomy refers only to the section of the lower limb extending from the knee to the ankle, also known as the crus. Legs are used for standing, and all forms of locomotion including recreational such as dancing, and constitute a significant portion of a person's mass. Female legs generally have greater hip anteversion and tibiofemoral angles, but shorter femur and tibial lengths than those in males.

Carpal bones bone

The carpal bones are the eight small bones that make up the wrist that connects the hand to the forearm. The term "carpus" is derived from the Latin carpus and the Greek καρπός (karpós), meaning "wrist". In human anatomy, the main role of the wrist is to facilitate effective positioning of the hand and powerful use of the extensors and flexors of the forearm, and the mobility of individual carpal bones increase the freedom of movements at the wrist.

Tarsus (skeleton) Bones of the foot

The tarsus is a cluster of seven articulating bones in each foot situated between the lower end of tibia and fibula of the lower leg and the metatarsus. It is made up of the midfoot and hindfoot.

Hip anatomical region

In vertebrate anatomy, hip refers to either an anatomical region or a joint.

Metacarpophalangeal joint anatomical structure

The metacarpophalangeal joints (MCP) are situated between the metacarpal bones and the proximal phalanges of the fingers. These joints are of the condyloid kind, formed by the reception of the rounded heads of the metacarpal bones into shallow cavities on the proximal ends of the proximal phalanges. Being condyloid, they allow the movements of flexion, extension, abduction, adduction and circumduction at the joint.

Carpometacarpal joint joint in the hand

The carpometacarpal (CMC) joints are five joints in the wrist that articulate the distal row of carpal bones and the proximal bases of the five metacarpal bones.

Muscles of the hip

In human anatomy, the muscles of the hip joint are those muscles that cause movement in the hip. Most modern anatomists define 17 of these muscles, although some additional muscles may sometimes be considered. These are often divided into four groups according to their orientation around the hip joint: the gluteal group; the lateral rotator group; the adductor group; and the iliopsoas group.

Metatarsophalangeal joints

The metatarsophalangeal joints are the joints between the metatarsal bones of the foot and the proximal bones of the toes. They are condyloid joints, meaning that an elliptical or rounded surface comes close to a shallow cavity.

In medicine, physiotherapy, chiropractic, and osteopathy the hip examination, or hip exam, is undertaken when a patient has a complaint of hip pain and/or signs and/or symptoms suggestive of hip joint pathology. It is a physical examination maneuver.

Condyloid joint condyle that is received into a small joint in the wrist

A condyloid joint is an ovoid articular surface, or condyle that is received into an elliptical cavity. This permits movement in two planes, allowing flexion, extension, adduction, abduction, and circumduction.

Saddle joint

A saddle joint is a type of synovial joint in which the opposing surfaces are reciprocally concave and convex.

Pronation of the foot Type of foot movement

Pronation is a natural movement of the foot that occurs during foot landing while running or walking. Composed of three cardinal plane components: subtalar eversion, ankle dorsiflexion, and forefoot abduction, these three distinct motions of the foot occur simultaneously during the pronation phase. Pronation is a normal, desirable, and necessary component of the gait cycle. Pronation is the first half of the stance phase, whereas supination starts the propulsive phase as the heel begins to lift off the ground.

The rear delt raise, also known as the rear deltoid raise, or rear shoulder raise is an exercise in weight training. This exercise is an isolation exercise that heavily works the posterior deltoid muscle. The movement is primarily limited to the two shoulder joints: the glenohumeral joint and the scapulothoracic joint. Scapular movement will also cause movement in the sternoclavicular joint and acromioclavicular joint. If the elbow bends during the extension exercises, it gravitates into a rowing motion.

Physiological movements or normal movements are the natural movements that occur in human joints. They are also known as osteokinematic movements.

Anatomical terminology Wikimedia list article

Anatomical terminology is a form of scientific terminology used by anatomists, zoologists, and health professionals such as doctors.

Anatomical terms of bone Wikimedia list article

Many anatomical terms descriptive of bone are defined in anatomical terminology, and are often derived from Greek and Latin.

Anatomical terms of muscle

Muscles are described using unique anatomical terminology according to their actions and structure.

The function of the lower limbs during walking is to support the whole-body against gravitational forces while generating movement patterns which progress the body forward. Walking is an activity that is primarily confined to the sagittal plane, which is also described as the plane of progression. During one gait cycle, there are two major phases: stance and swing. In a healthy individual walking at a normal walking speed, stance phase makes up approximately 60% of one gait cycle and swing makes up the remaining 40%. The lower limbs are only in contact with the ground during stance phase which is typically subdivided into 5 events: heel contact, foot flat, mid-stance, heel off, and toe off. The majority of stance phase (~40%) takes place in single-limb support where one limb is in contact with the ground and the contralateral limb is in swing phase. During this time interval, the lower limb must support constant changes in alignment of body weight while propelling forward. The hip, knee, and ankle joints move through cyclical kinematic patterns that are controlled by muscles which cross these joints. As postural changes occur, the body adapts by motor tuning an efficient muscular pattern that will accomplish the necessary kinematics required to walk.

In medicine, obligatory synergies occur when spasticity appears, such as following a stroke. It manifests in abnormal and stereotypical patterns across multiple joints called obligatory synergies. They are described as either a flexion synergy or an extension synergy and affect both the upper and lower extremity. When these patterns occur in a patient, he or she is unable to move a limb segment in isolation of the pattern. This interferes with normal activities of daily living. Some aspects of the obligatory synergy patterns however, can be cleverly used to increase function relative to the movement available to the individual. Careful thought should, therefore, be considered in deciding which muscle groups to stretch at specific times during recovery. Obligatory synergy patterns are observed when a patient tries to make a minimal voluntary movement, or as a result of stimulated reflexes.


  1. 1 2 3 Marieb 2010, p. 212.
  2. 1 2 3 Lippert 2011, pp. 6-7.
  3. 1 2 3 Kendall 2005, p. 57.
  4. Lippert 2011, pp. 1-7.
  5. Kendall 2005, p. G-4.
  6. Seeley 1998, p. 229.
  7. "Anatomy & Physiology". Openstax college at Connexions. Retrieved November 16, 2013.
  8. OED 1989, "flexion", "extension".
  9. OED 1989, "flexion".
  10. 1 2 3 4 Kendall 2005, p. 56.
  11. 1 2 3 Cook 2012, pp. 180-193.
  12. OED 1989, "extension".
  13. 1 2 3 Swartz 2010, pp. 590–591.
  14. OED 1989, "adduction", "abduction", "abduct".
  15. See: for appropriate image
  16. OED 1989.
  17. OED 1989, "elevation".
  18. Kendall 2005, p. 303.
  19. OED 1989, "depression".
  20. 1 2 3 Swartz 2010, pp. 590-1.
  21. OED 1989, "anterograde", "retrograde".
  22. Saladin 2010, p. 300.
  23. Kendall 2005, p. 304.
  24. Taber 2001, "reduction".
  25. 1 2 3 Kendall 2005, p. 371.
  26. 1 2 Kyung 2005, p. 123.
  27. 1 2 3 Swartz 2010, pp. 591-593.
  28. OED 1989, "palmarflexion", "dorsiflexion".
  29. Swartz 2010, pp. 591–592.
  30. OED 1989, "pronation".
  31. OED 1989, "supination".
  32. Swartz 2010, p. 591.
  33. Kyung 2005, p. 108.
  34. DMD 2012, "version".
  35. Taber 2001, "torsion".
  36. Taber 2001, "occlusion".
  37. Taber 2001, "protrusion", "retrusion".
  38. OED 1989, "nutation".
  39. Houglum 2012, p. 333.
  40. Taber 2001, "opposition".
  41. OED 1989, "protraction", "retraction".
  42. Kendall 2005, p. 302.
  43. Taber 2001, "reciprocation".
  44. OED 1989, "resposition".