Anatomical terms of motion

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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 body parts involved. Anatomists and others use a unified set of terms to describe most of the movements, although other, more specialized terms are necessary for describing unique 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 in the human body is known as kinesiology. [4] A categoric list of movements and the muscles involved can be found at list of movements of the human body.

Abnormal motion

Hyperextended finger in hypermobility spectrum disorder Hypermobility-10.jpg
Hyperextended finger in hypermobility spectrum disorder
Hyperextended thumb in hypermobility spectrum disorder Hypermobility-11.jpg
Hyperextended thumb in hypermobility spectrum disorder

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 are 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 is 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 neck 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, 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] Even for other upper extremity joints - elbow and wrist, backward movement results in extension. The knee, ankle, and wrist are exceptions, where the distal end has to move in the anterior direction for it to be called extension. [13] [ page needed ]

For the toes, flexion is curling them downward whereas extension is uncurling them or raising them. [14]

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 is motion towards the center of the body. [15] The center of the body is defined as the midsagittal or longitudinal 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, carried out by one or more abductor muscles. In the case of fingers and toes, it is spreading the digits apart, away from the centerline of the hand or foot. [15] 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 towards the midline of the body, or towards the midline of a limb, carried out by one or more adductor muscles. In the case of fingers and toes, it is bringing the digits together, towards the centerline of the hand or foot. Dropping the arms to the sides, and bringing the knees together, are examples of adduction. [15]

Adduction of the wrist is also known as ulnar deviation which moves the hand towards the ulnar styloid (or, towards the little finger). Abduction of the wrist is also called radial deviation which moves the hand moving towards the radial styloid (or, towards the thumb). [15] [17]

Elevation and depression

Elevation and depression are movements above and below the horizontal. The words derive from the Latin terms with similar meanings. [lower-alpha 3]

Elevation is movement in a superior direction. [19] For example, shrugging is an example of elevation of the scapula. [20]

Depression is movement in an inferior direction, the opposite of elevation. [21]


Rotation Body Movements I (cropped rotation).jpg

Rotation of body parts may be internal or external, that is, towards or away from the center of the body. [22]

Internal rotation (medial rotation or intorsion) is rotation towards the axis of the body, [22] carried out by internal rotators.

External rotation (lateral rotation or extorsion) is rotation away from the center of the body, [22] carried out by external rotators.

Internal and external rotators make up the rotator cuff, a group of muscles that help to stabilize the shoulder joint.


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. [27]

Dorsiflexion is where the toes are brought closer to the shin. This decreases the angle between the dorsum of the foot and the leg. [28] For example, when walking on the heels the ankle is described as being in dorsiflexion. [27]

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. [27]

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. [29] 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. [30] The direction of terms are opposite to those in the foot because of embryological rotation of the limbs in opposite directions. [10]

Palmarflexion is flexion of the wrist towards the palm and ventral side of forearm. [29]

Dorsiflexion is hyperextension of the wrist joint, towards the dorsal side of forearm. [29]

Pronation and supination

Pronation and supination are generally to the prone (facing down) or supine (facing up) positions. In the extremities, they are the 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. [31] As an example, when a person is typing on a computer keyboard, their hands are pronated; when washing their 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. [32]

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. [33]

Inversion and eversion

Inversion and eversion are movements that tilt the sole of the foot away from (eversion) or towards (inversion) the midline of the body. [34]

Eversion is the movement of the sole of the foot away from the median plane. [35] Inversion is the movement of the sole towards the median plane. For example, inversion describes the motion when an ankle is twisted. [28]


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) [16]
  3. "press down" (Latin: deprimere), "to raise" (Latin: elevare) [18]
  4. "to nod" (Latin: Nutare) [40]

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Human leg</span> 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 or sometimes 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 or, especially in non-technical use, the shank. 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Carpal bones</span> Eight small bones that make up the wrist (or carpus) that connects the hand to the forearm

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wrist</span> Part of the arm between the lower arm and the hand

In human anatomy, the wrist is variously defined as (1) the carpus or carpal bones, the complex of eight bones forming the proximal skeletal segment of the hand; (2) the wrist joint or radiocarpal joint, the joint between the radius and the carpus and; (3) the anatomical region surrounding the carpus including the distal parts of the bones of the forearm and the proximal parts of the metacarpus or five metacarpal bones and the series of joints between these bones, thus referred to as wrist joints. This region also includes the carpal tunnel, the anatomical snuff box, bracelet lines, the flexor retinaculum, and the extensor retinaculum.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Upper limb</span> Consists of the arm, forearm, and hand

The upper limbs or upper extremities are the forelimbs of an upright-postured tetrapod vertebrate, extending from the scapulae and clavicles down to and including the digits, including all the musculatures and ligaments involved with the shoulder, elbow, wrist and knuckle joints. In humans, each upper limb is divided into the arm, forearm and hand, and is primarily used for climbing, lifting and manipulating objects.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tarsus (skeleton)</span> Bones of the foot

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

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sagittal plane</span> Anatomical plane dividing the body into left and right

The sagittal plane is an anatomical plane that divides the body into right and left sections. It is perpendicular to the transverse and coronal planes. The plane may be in the center of the body and divide it into two equal parts (mid-sagittal), or away from the midline and divide it into unequal parts (para-sagittal).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Metacarpophalangeal joint</span>

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Carpometacarpal joint</span>

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Metatarsophalangeal joints</span>

The metatarsophalangeal joints, also informally known as toe knuckles, 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Condyloid joint</span> 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pronation of the foot</span> 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Elbow</span> Joint between the upper and lower parts of the arm

The elbow is the region between the upper arm and the forearm that surrounds the elbow joint. The elbow includes prominent landmarks such as the olecranon, the cubital fossa, and the lateral and the medial epicondyles of the humerus. The elbow joint is a hinge joint between the arm and the forearm; more specifically between the humerus in the upper arm and the radius and ulna in the forearm which allows the forearm and hand to be moved towards and away from the body. The term elbow is specifically used for humans and other primates, and in other vertebrates forelimb plus joint is used.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anatomical terminology</span> Scientific terminology used by anatomists, zoologists, and health professionals

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anatomical terms of muscle</span> Muscles terminology

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Muscles of the thumb</span>

The muscles of the thumb are nine skeletal muscles located in the hand and forearm. The muscles allow for flexion, extension, adduction, abduction and opposition of the thumb. The muscles acting on the thumb can be divided into two groups: The extrinsic hand muscles, with their muscle bellies located in the forearm, and the intrinsic hand muscles, with their muscles bellies located in the hand proper.

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. Kendall 2005.
  14. Platzer 2004, p. 258.
  15. 1 2 3 4 Swartz 2010, pp. 590–591.
  16. OED 1989, "adduction", "abduction", "abduct".
  17. See: for appropriate image
  18. OED 1989.
  19. OED 1989, "elevation".
  20. Kendall 2005, p. 303.
  21. OED 1989, "depression".
  22. 1 2 3 Swartz 2010, pp. 590–1.
  23. OED 1989, "anterograde", "retrograde".
  24. Saladin 2010, p. 300.
  25. Kendall 2005, p. 304.
  26. Taber 2001, "reduction".
  27. 1 2 3 Kendall 2005, p. 371.
  28. 1 2 Kyung 2005, p. 123.
  29. 1 2 3 Swartz 2010, pp. 591–593.
  30. OED 1989, "palmarflexion", "dorsiflexion".
  31. Swartz 2010, pp. 591–592.
  32. OED 1989, "pronation".
  33. OED 1989, "supination".
  34. Swartz 2010, p. 591.
  35. Kyung 2005, p. 108.
  36. DMD 2012, "version".
  37. Taber 2001, "torsion".
  38. Taber 2001, "occlusion".
  39. Taber 2001, "protrusion", "retrusion".
  40. OED 1989, "nutation".
  41. Houglum 2012, p. 333.
  42. Taber 2001, "opposition".
  43. OED 1989, "protraction", "retraction".
  44. Kendall 2005, p. 302.
  45. Taber 2001, "reciprocation".
  46. OED 1989, "resposition".