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Anatomical terms of motion

anatomical terms of motion, anatomical terms of motion images
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


  • 1 Classification
    • 11 Abnormal motion
  • 2 General motion
    • 21 Flexion and extension
    • 22 Abduction and adduction
    • 23 Elevation and depression
    • 24 Rotation
    • 25 Other
  • 3 Special motion
    • 31 Special motions of the hands and feet
      • 311 Flexion and extension of the foot
      • 312 Flexion and extension of the hand
      • 313 Pronation and supination
      • 314 Inversion and eversion
    • 32 Special motions of the eyes
    • 33 Special motions of the jaw and teeth
    • 34 Other
  • 4 See also
  • 5 Notes
  • 6 References
  • 7 Sources
  • 8 External links


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 planes2 Motions can be split into categories relating to the nature of the joints involved:

  • Gliding motions occur between flat surfaces, such as in the intervertebral discs or between the carpal and metacarpal bones of the hand1
  • Angular motions occur over synovial joints and causes them to either increase or decrease angles between bones1
  • Rotational motions move a structure in a rotational motion along a longitudinal axis, such as turning the head to look to either side3

Apart from this motions can also be divided into:

  • Linear motions or translatory motions, which move in a line between two points Rectilinear motion is motion in a straight line between two points, whereas curvilinear motion is motion following a curved path2
  • Angular motions or rotary motions occur when an object is around another object increasing or decreasing the angle The different parts of the object do not move the same distance Examples include a movement of the knee, where the lower leg changes angle compared to the femur, or movements of the ankle2

The study of movement is known as kinesiology4 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 motionedit

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

General motionedit

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 pairs7

Flexion and extensionedit

See also: List of flexors of the human body and List of extensors of the human body

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 meaninga

Flexion describes a bending movement that decreases the angle between a segment and its proximal segment9 For example, bending the elbow, or clenching a hand into a fist, are examples of flexion When sitting down, the knees are flexed When a joint can move forward and backward, such as the neck and trunk, flexion refers to movement in the anterior direction10 Flexion of the shoulder or hip refers to movement of the arm or leg forward11

Extension is the opposite of flexion, describing a straightening movement that increases the angle between body parts12 When a joint can move forward and backward, such as the neck and trunk, extension refers to movement in the posterior direction10 For example, when standing up, the knees are extended Extension of the hip or shoulder moves the arm or leg backward11 When the chin is against the chest, the head is flexed, and the trunk is flexed when a person leans forward 10

Abduction and adductionedit

See also: List of abductors of the human body and List of adductors of the human body

Abduction and adduction refer to motions that move a structure away from or towards the centre of the body13 The centre of the body is defined as the midsagittal plane3 These terms come from the Latin words with the same meaningb

Abduction refers to a motion that pulls a structure or part away from the midline of the body In the case of fingers and toes, it refers to spreading the digits apart, away from the centerline of the hand or foot Abduction of the wrist is also called radial deviation13 For example, raising the arms up, such as when tightrope-walking, is an example of abduction at the shoulder11 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 hip3

Adduction refers to 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 refers to 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 adduction13

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 digit15

Elevation and depressionedit

See also: List of elevators of the human body and List of depressors of the human body

The terms elevation and depression refer to movement above and below the horizontal They derive from the Latin terms with the same meaningc

Elevation refers to movement in a superior direction17 For example, shrugging is an example of elevation of the scapula 18

Depression refers to movement in an inferior direction, the opposite of elevation19


See also: List of internal rotators of the human body and List of external rotators of the human body

Rotation of body parts is referred to as internal or external, referring to rotation towards or away from the center of the body20

Internal rotation or medial rotation refers to rotation towards the axis of the body20

External rotation or lateral rotation refers to rotation away from the center of the body20


  • Anterograde and Retrograde flow, refers to movement of blood or other fluids in a normal anterograde or abnormal retrograde direction21
  • Circumduction refers to a conical movement of a body part, such as a ball and socket joint or the eye Circumduction is a combination of flexion, extension, adduction and abduction Circumduction can be best performed at ball and socket joints, such as the hip and shoulder, but may also be performed by other parts of the body such as fingers, hands, feet, and head22 For example, circumduction occurs when spinning the arm when performing a serve in tennis or bowling a cricket ball 23
  • Reduction refers to a motion returning a bone to its original state,24 such as a shoulder reduction following shoulder dislocation, or reduction of a hernia

Special motionedit

Special motions of the hands and feetedit

Flexion and extension of the footedit

Dorsiflexion and plantar flexion refers to extension or flexion of the foot at the ankle These terms refer to flexion between the foot and the body's dorsal surface, considered the front of the leg, and flexion between the foot and the body's plantar surface, considered the back of the leg25 These terms are used to resolve confusion, as technically extension of the joint refers to dorsiflexion, which could be considered counter-intuitive as the motion reduces the angle between the foot and the leg 26

Dorsiflexion where the toes are brought closer to the shin This decreases the angle between the dorsum of the foot and the leg27 For example, when walking on the heels the ankle is described as being in dorsiflexion26

Plantar flexion 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 the tiptoes can be described as plantar flexion26

Flexion and extension of the handedit

Palmarflexion and dorsiflexion refer to movement of the flexion palmarflexion or extension dorsiflexion of the hand at the wrist28 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 arm29 The direction of terms are opposite to those in the foot because of embryological rotation of the limbs in opposite directions10

Palmarflexion refers to decreasing the angle between the palm and the anterior forearm28

Dorsiflexion refers to extension at the ankle or wrist joint This brings the hand closer to the dorsum of the body28

Pronation and supinationedit

See also: Pronation of the foot

Pronation /proʊˈneɪʃən/ and supination /suːpᵻˈneɪʃən/ refer most generally to assuming prone or supine positions, but often they are used in a specific sense referring to rotation of the forearm or foot so that in the standard anatomical position the palm or sole is facing anteriorly supination or posteriorly pronation30

Pronation at the forearm is a rotational movement where the hand and upper arm are turned inwards Pronation of the foot refers to turning of the sole outwards, so that weight is borne on the medial part of the foot31

Supination of the forearm occurs when the forearm or palm are rotated outwards Supination of the foot refers to turning of the sole of the foot inwards, shifting weight to the lateral edge32

Inversion and eversionedit

Inversion and eversion refer to movements that tilt the sole of the foot away from eversion or towards inversion the midline of the body33

Eversion is the movement of the sole of the foot away from the median plane34 Inversion is the movement of the sole towards the median plane For example, inversion describes the motion when an ankle is twisted27

Special motions of the eyesedit

Main article: Eye movement § Terminology

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

  • A version is an eye movement involving both eyes moving synchronously and symmetrically in the same direction35
  • Torsion refers to eye movement that affects the vertical axis of the eye,36 such as the movement made when looking in to the nose

Special motions of the jaw and teethedit

  • Occlusion refers to motion of the mandibula towards the maxilla making contact between the teeth37
  • Protrusion and Retrusion are sometimes used to describe the anterior protrusion and posterior retrusion movement of the jaw38


Other terms include:

  • Nutation and counternutationd refer to movement of the sacrum defined by the rotation of the promontory downwards and anteriorly, as with lumbar extension nutation; or upwards and posteriorly, as with lumbar flexion counternutation40
  • Opposition refers to the movement that involves grasping of the thumb and fingers41
  • Protraction and Retraction refer to an anterior protraction or posterior retraction movement,42 such as of the arm at the shoulders, although these terms have been criticised as non-specific43
  • Reciprocal motion refers to alternating motions in opposing directions44
  • Reposition refers to restoring an object to its natural condition45

See alsoedit

  • Anatomical terms of location
  • Anatomical terms of muscle
  • Anatomical terms of bone
  • Anatomical terms of neuroanatomy


  1. ^ "to stretch out" Latin: extendere, "to bend" Latin: flectere 8
  2. ^ "to bring in" Latin: adductere, "to lead away" Latin: abducere14
  3. ^ "press down" Latin: deprimere, "to raise" Latin: elevare16
  4. ^ "to nod" Latin: Nutare39


  1. ^ a b c Marieb 2010, p 212
  2. ^ a b c Lippert 2011, pp 6-7
  3. ^ a b c 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. ^ a b c d Kendall 2005, p 56
  11. ^ a b c Cook 2012, pp 180-193
  12. ^ OED 1989, "extension"
  13. ^ a b c 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. ^ a b c 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. ^ OED 1989, "plantar flexion", "dorsiflexion"
  26. ^ a b c Kendall 2005, p 371
  27. ^ a b Kyung 2005, p 123
  28. ^ a b c Swartz 2010, pp 591-593
  29. ^ OED 1989, "palmarflexion", "dorsiflexion"
  30. ^ Swartz 2010, pp 591–592
  31. ^ OED 1989, "pronation"
  32. ^ OED 1989, "supination"
  33. ^ Swartz 2010, p 591
  34. ^ Kyung 2005, p 108
  35. ^ DMD 2012, "version"
  36. ^ Taber 2001, "torsion"
  37. ^ Taber 2001, "occlusion"
  38. ^ Taber 2001, "protrusion", "retrusion"
  39. ^ OED 1989, "nutation"
  40. ^ Houglum 2012, p 333
  41. ^ Taber 2001, "opposition"
  42. ^ OED 1989, "protraction", "retraction"
  43. ^ Kendall 2005, p 302
  44. ^ Taber 2001, "reciprocation"
  45. ^ OED 1989, "resposition"


  • Albert, Daniel 2012 Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary 32nd ed Philadelphia, PA: Saunders/Elsevier ISBN 978-1416062578 
  • Chung, Kyung Won 2005 Gross Anatomy Board Review Lippincott Williams & Wilkins ISBN 0-7817-5309-0 
  • Cook, Chad E 2012 Orthopedic Manual Therapy: An Evidence Based Approach 2nd ed Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education ISBN 978-0-13-802173-3 
  • Houglum, Peggy A; Bertoli, Dolores B 2012 Brunnstrom's Clinical Kinesiology F A Davis Company ISBN 978-0-8036-2352-1 
  • Kendall, Florence Peterson; et al; et al 2005 Muscles : testing and function with posture and pain 5th ed Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins ISBN 0-7817-4780-5 
  • Lippert, Lynn S 2011 Clinical Kinesiology and Anatomy 5th ed F A Davis Company ISBN 978-0-8036-2363-7 
  • Marieb, Elaine N; Wilhelm, Patricia B; Mallat, Jon 2010 Human Anatomy Pearson ISBN 978-0-321-61611-1 
  • Saladin, Kenneth S 2010 Anatomy & Physiology The Unity of Form and Function 5th ed McGraw Hill ISBN 978-0077361358 
  • Seeley, Rod R; Stephens, Trent D; Tate, Philip 1998 Anatomy & Physiology 4th ed WCB/McGraw-Hill ISBN 0-697-41107-9 
  • Simpson, John A; Weiner, Edmung 1989 The Oxford English Dictionary Oxford: Clarendon Press ISBN 9780198611868 
  • Swartz, Mark H 2010 Textbook of Physical Diagnosis: History and Examination 6th ed Saunders/Elsevier ISBN 978-1-4160-6203-5 
  • Venes, Donald Editor; Thomas, Clayton L Editor; Egan, Elizabeth J Managing Editor; Morelli, Nancee A Assistant Editor; Nell, Alison D Assistant Editor; Matkowski, Joy 2001 Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary illustrated in full color 19th ed Philadelphia: FADavis Co ISBN 0-8036-0655-9 CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter link

External linksedit

  • Hypermuscle: Muscles in Action at medumichedu

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