What are the ranges of motion of the shoulder?

Flexion, Abduction, Extension, External Rotation, Internal Rotation, and circumduction.

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons states that the normal range of motion for the shoulder are 180° for Flexion and Abduction, and 90° for Internal and External Rotation. However, a study by BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders has shown that most people have a lower range of motion which is affected by age and health conditions, which is explored below.

 

What is the shoulder joint

The shoulder joint is a ball-and-socket joint that allows for a wide range of motions, including flexion, abduction, extension, internal rotation, and external rotation.

 

Range of motion

The range of motion of a shoulder joint is the extent to which a shoulder can move, usually measured in degrees° from rest.

Range of motion can be active, where the limb is activated by the owner, or passive, where the limb is moved through movements by another force, such as by another person.

 

The main ranges of motion at the shoulder are:

 

Flexion

This is when you raise your arm up in front of you, like you’re waving goodbye. It’s the motion that brings your arm down from an overhead position.

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons has stated that the normal active range of motion for Forward Flexion is 180°, however this study has shown that for most people, the range of motion is less than 180°. Furthermore, shoulder range of motion is affected by lifestyle and age.

The chart below shows the ranges of motion of the shoulder for flexion for males and females without shoulder injuries, plotted against age.

 

 

Forward flexion movement of raising the arm up in front of you Male Shoulder Forward Flexion Range of Motion Line Chart
Female Shoulder Forward Flexion Range of Motion Line Chart

 

 

Range of Motion Chart Forward Flexion

 

  Male – Mean   Female – Mean  
Age Left Right Left Right
20 – 24 168 174 166 169
25 – 29 165 162 165 166
30 – 34 166 170 163 162
35 – 39 162 166 165 168
40 – 44 160 160 160 160
45 – 49 163 162 158 160
50 – 54 163 167 158 160
55 – 59 157 160 154 154
60 – 64 155 159 146 150
65 – 69 150 152 151 154
70 – 74 143 150 146 150
75 – 79 143 142 138 142
80 – 84 137 140 132 132
85 + 130 136 130 138

Flexion is facilitated by the pectorals, anterior deltoid, coracobrachialis and weakly by the biceps. Injury to any of these muscles and related tendons will result in reduced range of motion of the shoulder.

 

Abduction

Abduction is when you move your arm away from your body, such as when you lift it up to shoulder height out towards the side.

Abduction movement of arms moving upwards out towards the side.

Male Shoulder Abduction Range of Motion Line Chart
Female Shoulder Abduction Range of Motion Line Chart

 

  Male – Mean   Female – Mean   
Age Left Right Left Right
20 – 24 159 158 156 156
25 – 29 153 154 155 157
30 – 34 156 157 156 156
35 – 39 153 155 156 159
40 – 44 152 155 153 155
45 – 49 152 155 149 151
50 – 54 155 158 149 151
55 – 59 147 149 146 150
60 – 64 145 146 138 139
65 – 69 136 138 140 143
70 – 74 135 137 132 133
75 – 79 134 136 128 133
80 – 84 125 131 115 121
85 + 120 119 119 120

 

Rotation

Rotation is when you rotate your arm at the shoulder, such as when you wind up for a pitch in baseball or screw in a light bulb. There are two types of rotation at the shoulder: medial (internal) rotation and lateral (external) rotation.

 

External Rotation

External Rotation, or Lateral Rotation, is when you rotate your arm outward, such as when you swing your arm out to the side.

External Rotation movement demonstrated by moving arms outward with elbows close to the body

 

 

Male Shoulder External Rotation Range of Motion Line Chart
Female Shoulder External Rotation Range of Motion Line Chart

  Male – Mean   Female – Mean   
Age Left Right Left Right
20 – 24 59 62 73 74
25 – 29 62 65 67 73
30 – 34 58 59 62 65
35 – 39 56 56 61 63
40 – 44 54 55 57 59
45 – 49 53 54 55 56
50 – 54 55 57 55 58
55 – 59 52 54 55 57
60 – 64 50 52 53 55
65 – 69 50 52 55 57
70 – 74 50 50 51 51
75 – 79 48 50 46 51
80 – 84 50 53 51 54
85 + 47 52 48 49

 

Internal Rotation

Internal Rotation, or Medial Rotation, is when you rotate your arm inward, such as when you bring your arm across your body to touch your opposite shoulder.

 

Extension

Extension is when you move your arm behind your body, such as when you reach back to scratch your shoulder blade.

Extension movement demonstrated by moving your arm backwards from your hand close to the hip.

 

 

Why is maintaining good range of motion important for the shoulder joint? 

Maintaining good range of motion in the shoulder joint is essential for optimal function and avoiding injury. If you don’t use your shoulder joint’s full range of motion, you may be more likely to injure it. By regularly stretching and exercising your shoulder muscles, you can maintain good range of motion and reduce your risk of injury.

Furthermore, if you have an injury you are more likely to sustain a further injury due to the weakness of the muscles and ligaments of the shoulder. Recovery from shoulder injury will include regaining Range of Motion through exercises and physiotherapy, and strengthening of the joint.

 

How can you maintain good range of motion in your shoulder joint? 

You can maintain good range of motion in your shoulder joint by regularly stretching and exercising the muscles that support it. A combination of static and dynamic stretches, as well as strength-training exercises, is ideal. Regularly incorporating these activities into your routine will help to keep your shoulder joint healthy and prevent injury.

 

What are some common injuries to the shoulder joint?

Some common injuries to the shoulder joint include rotator cuff tears, dislocations, and impingement syndrome. These injuries can be caused by overuse, repetitive motions, or acute trauma.

 

Conclusion

The ranges of motion of the shoulder are Flexion, Abduction, Extension, External Rotation, Internal Rotation, and circumduction. The ranges of motion for Forward Flexion is between 130° and 174°.

Regular exercise is key, and if a shoulder issue occurs, it’s important to monitor it closely to catch symptoms as early as possible.

 

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