Anatomical Terms of Movement

Author: Oliver Jones

Last modified: January 28, 2014

Anatomical terms of movement are important in describing the actions of muscles on the skeleton.

As in anatomical terms of location, the terms used assume that the body starts in the anatomical position. Most movements have an opposite, so they have been paired up for ease of understanding.


Flexion and Extension

These two terms refer to increasing and decreasing the angle between two body parts:

Flexion refers to a movement that decreases the angle between two body parts. Flexion at the elbow is decreasing the angle between the ulna and the humerus.

Extension refers to a movement that increases the angle between two body parts. Extension at the elbow is increases the angle between the ulna and the humerus.

 

Fig 1.0 - Flexion and extension

Fig 1.0 – Flexion and extension

 


Abduction and Adduction

These terms are used to describe movements towards or away from the midline of the body.

Abduction is a movement away from the midline

Adduction is a movement towards the midline

In fingers and toes, the midline used is not the midline of the body, but of the hand and  foot respectively.

Fig 1.1 - Adduction and abduction

Fig 1.1 – Adduction and abduction


Medial and Lateral Rotation

This refers to rotating the upper and lower limbs towards and away from the midline, around their long axis.

Medial rotation is a rotating movement towards the midline.

Lateral rotation is a rotating movement away from the midline.

Fig 3.2 - Medial and lateral rotation

Fig 1.2 – Medial and lateral rotation


Elevation and Depression

Elevation refers to movement in a superior direction (e.g shoulder shrug), depression refers to movement in an inferior direction


Pronation and Supination

Fig 1.3 - Supination and Pronation

Fig 1.3 – Supination and Pronation

This is easily confused with medial and lateral rotation – but the difference is that pronation and supination can occur only when the forearm in semi-flexed.

Pronation moves the palm of the hand so that it is facing posteriorly (your forearms are pronated when typing on a keyboard).

Supination moves the palm of the hand so that it is facing anteriorly (your hands are supinated when holding a bowl of soup).


Dorsiflexion and Plantarflexion

Both these terms describe movement at the ankle.

Dorsiflexion refers to extension at the ankle, so that the foot points more superiorly

Plantarflexion refers flexion at the ankle, so that the foot points more inferiorly


Opposition and Reposition

A pair of movements unique to humans, these apply to some additional movements that the hand and thumb carry out

Opposition brings the thumb and little finger together

Reposition is a movment that places the thumb and the little finger away from each other