The Importance of Range of Motion Testing

elbow ROM

Range of motion testing is an important aspect of physical therapy for a patient. The primary reason being that it dictates in large part the pacing and extent of the treatment plan. Many patients fail to understand what exactly this testing involves and how it directly affects the treatment plan.

When patients neglect to perform ROM exercises it opens the door to further injury by limiting the mobility of a joint. Explaining to a patient the necessity of ROM exercises creates motivation.

This article  explains the necessity of this type of testing so the patient makes positive strides in the rehab process.

Range of Motion as a Marker

Spine MeasurementIn order to mark the progression of a patient’s rehabilitation there has to be some kind of marker. ROM or Range of Motion is generally that marker. The reason why lies in the phrase “range of motion testing”. The meaning of the name deals with the degree to which a joint is able to fully flex and extend along the plane of motion. As an example the elbow starting at zero degrees should fully extend to 180 degrees. Failure to do that points to an underlying problem, which holds true even if it’s just the loss of five degrees.

Another example is the knee which also has a range of 0-180 degrees. The loss of 5 degrees here results in poor locking of the knee joint during weight bearing. This weight bearing stress can cause wear and tear within the joint and possible injury.

Range of Motion as a Diagnostic Tool

ROM spine

Range of motion testing is good indicator on how severe an injury is and gives the patient a time frame for recovery. That last point is what makes it possible for different clinicians to work with the same patient. Range of motion testing gives the clinician insight on the condition of ligaments and tendons surrounding the join

When Is Range of Motion Tested

Physical therapists will take range of motion measurements on the initial evaluation, every two weeks and upon discharge. This objective measurement insures that the treatment plan is progressing at a good pace for the patient.

It also allows the therapist to act on something besides the patient’s subjective feelings about the condition. This can be especially important with stubborn or impatient patients trying to force themselves through pain and risk further injury. Range of motion testing is therefore a crucial tool in the hands of a PT.


GoniometerIn order to improve a patients motion and muscle strength it’s important that a patient see objective testing. The best marker for this is range of motion testing and should be conducted at designated times. This is why range of motion testing is a necessary part of the rehabilitation process.