Anatomical Terms of Motion Glossary
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The movement of body structures is accomplished by the contraction of
muscles. Muscles may move parts of the skeleton relatively to each other,
or may move parts of internal organs relatively to each other. All such
movements are classified by the directions in which the affected structures
are moved. In human anatomy, all descriptions of position and movement
are based on the assumption that the body is its complete medial and abduction
stage in anatomical position.
The prefix hyper- is sometimes added to emphasize movement beyond the
normal position, such as in hyperflexion or hyperextension. Such movements
can put significant stress on the joints involved. See: Medical terminology
All motions are considered to be a mixture of or a single contribution
by the following types of movement.
Most terms of a motion have clear opposites, and as such, are treated
below in pairs.
|Adjusting angle between two parts
Flexion - Bending movement that decreases the angle between two
parts. Bending the elbow, or clenching a hand into a fist, are examples
of flexion. When sitting down, the knees are flexed. Flexion of
the hip or shoulder moves the limb forward (towards the anterior
side of the body). Good examples of hip flexors are the rectus femoris,
sartorius, iliacus, and psoas. Some knee flexors are the biceps
femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. A couple elbow flexors
are the brachialis, biceps brachii, and brachioradialis.
Extension - The opposite of flexion; a straightening movement that increases
the angle between body parts. In a conventional handshake, the fingers
are fully extended. When standing up, the knees are extended. Extension
of the hip or shoulder moves the limb backward (towards the posterior
side of the body). Elbow extensors include the triceps brachii and
anconeus. The main muscles that extends the hip is the gluteus maximus.
The muscles that extend the knee are the quadriceps. They are the
rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medalis, and vastus intermedius.
|Adjusting relation to mid-line of body
Abduction - A motion that pulls a structure or part away from
the midline of the body (or, in the case of fingers and toes, spreading
the digits apart, away from the centerline of the hand or foot).
Abduction of the wrist is called radial deviation. Raising
the arms laterally, to the sides, is an example of abduction. A
good example for the arm is the deltoid. Some leg abductors are
the gluteus medius and the gluteus minimus.
Adduction - A motion that pulls a structure or part towards the
midline of the body, or towards the midline of a limb. Dropping
the arms to the sides, or bringing the knees together, are examples
of adduction. In the case of the fingers or toes, adduction is closing
the digits together. Adduction of the wrist is called ulnar deviation.
The inner thigh houses some adductors, including the adductor brevis,
adductor longus, adductor magnus, and pectineus. The latissimus
dorsi is a good example for the arm.
|Rotating body parts
Internal rotation (or medial rotation) of the shoulder or hip
would point the toes or the flexed forearm inwards (towards the
midline). The pectoralis major medially rotates the humerus. The
adductor longus and adductor brevis both medially rotate the thigh.
External rotation (or lateral rotation) is the opposite of Internal
Rotation. It would turn the toes or the flexed forearm outwards
(away from the midline). The sartorius laterally rotates the femur.
The infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis all laterally
rotate the humerus.
Elevation - Movement in a superior direction. The upper muscle fibers
of the tapezius aid in elevating the apex of the shoulder.
Depression - Movement in an inferior direction, the opposite of elevation.
Opposite to the upper fibers, the lower half of the trapezius aids
in depressing the apex of the shoulder.
Special motions of the hands and feet
|surfaces of the hands and feet
||The palm (adj palmar) of the hand corresponds to the sole (adj
plantar) of the foot. The adjective volar, used mainly in orthopaedics,
is synonymous with palmar and plantar.
||The dorsum (back) of the hand corresponds to the dorsum (top) of the foot.
|rotation of the forearm
||Pronation - A rotation of the forearm that moves the palm
from an anterior-facing position to a posterior-facing position, or
palm facing down. This is not medial rotation as this must be performed
when the arm is half flexed. (See also Pronator quadratus and Pronator
||Supination - The opposite of pronation, the rotation of the
forearm so that the palm faces anteriorly, or palm facing up. The
hand is supine (facing anteriorly) in the anatomical position.
(See also Supinator muscle.)
|bending of the entire foot
||Dorsiflexion - Extension of the entire foot superiorly, as if taking
one's foot off an automobile pedal.
||Plantarflexion - Flexion of the entire foot inferiorly, as
if pressing an automobile pedal. Occurs at ankle.
|movement of the sole of the foot
||Eversion - the movement of the sole of the foot away from the median
||Inversion - the movement of the sole towards the median plane (same
as when an ankle is twisted).
Other special motions
|anterior/posterior movement - general
||Protrusion - The anterior movement of an object. This term is often applied to the jaw.
||Retrusion - The opposite of protrusion, moving a part posteriorly.
|anterior/posterior movement - shoulders
||Protraction - Anterior movement of the arms at the shoulders.
||Retraction - Posterior movement of the arms at the shoulders.
|motion within body (such as in blood vessels or the digestive
||anterograde motion is in the normal direction of flow. (For example, passage of food from the mouth to the stomach.)
||retrograde motion means reversed flow. (For example, gastric reflux.)
Some additional motions without clear opposites are as follows:
- Rotation - A motion that occurs when a part turns on its axis. The head rotates on the neck, as in shaking the head 'no'.
- Circumduction - The circular (or, more precisely, conical)
movement of a body part, such as a ball-and-socket joint or the eye.
It consists of a combination of flexion, extension, adduction, and abduction.
"Windmilling" the arms or rotating the hand from the wrist are examples
of circumductive movement.
- Apposition - A motion involving a grasping of the thumb and fingers.
- Reposition - To release an object by spreading the fingers and thumb.
- Reciprocal motion of a joint - Alternating motion in opposing directions, such as the elbow alternating between flexion and extension.
See all medical glossaries:
Published - February 2011
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