What causes limited range of motion and how to treat it?

Symptom Database

Have you ever experienced difficulty moving a joint or muscle to its full extent? This limited range of motion can be frustrating and can hinder your ability to perform daily activities or engage in physical exercise. In this article, we will explore the causes of limited range of motion and discuss various ways to improve flexibility and mobility through exercises and treatments.

Understanding Limited Range of Motion

Limited range of motion refers to the inability to move a joint or muscle through its full range of motion. This can occur in various parts of the body, such as the shoulders, hips, knees, or spine. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Injury: Trauma to a joint or muscle can lead to stiffness and limited range of motion.
  • Arthritis: Conditions like osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammation and joint stiffness.
  • Muscle imbalances: Weak or tight muscles can restrict movement and limit range of motion.
  • Scar tissue: After surgery or injury, the formation of scar tissue can restrict joint mobility.
  • Age: As we age, our joints may naturally become stiffer, leading to limited range of motion.

Improving Range of Motion

While limited range of motion can be frustrating, there are several ways to improve flexibility and mobility. Here are some effective methods:

Mobility Exercises

Mobility exercises focus on improving joint mobility and increasing range of motion. These exercises often involve moving a joint through its full range of motion in a controlled manner. Some examples of mobility exercises include:

  • Shoulder circles: Stand tall with your arms relaxed at your sides. Slowly lift your shoulders up towards your ears, then roll them back and down in a circular motion. Repeat this exercise for several repetitions.
  • Leg swings: Stand next to a wall or support for balance. Swing one leg forward and backward, gradually increasing the range of motion. Repeat on the other leg.
  • Neck rotations: Sit or stand with your spine tall. Slowly turn your head to one side, then return to the center and repeat on the other side.

Stretching Exercises

Stretching exercises are another effective way to improve flexibility and increase range of motion. These exercises target specific muscles and help to lengthen and relax them. Some examples of stretching exercises include:

  • Hamstring stretch: Sit on the floor with one leg extended in front of you and the other leg bent. Reach forward towards your toes, feeling a stretch in the back of your leg. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other leg.
  • Chest stretch: Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Interlace your fingers behind your back and gently lift your arms away from your body, feeling a stretch in your chest. Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Quadriceps stretch: Stand tall and grab one ankle, pulling your heel towards your buttocks. Keep your knees close together and feel a stretch in the front of your thigh. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other leg.

Exercises for Flexibility and Mobility

Combining mobility and stretching exercises can greatly improve flexibility and mobility. Here are some exercises that target both aspects:


Yoga is a fantastic practice for improving flexibility and mobility. It combines flowing movements with deep stretching, helping to increase range of motion in various joints and muscles. Regular yoga practice can lead to significant improvements in flexibility and overall mobility.


Pilates is another exercise method that focuses on core strength, flexibility, and mobility. Many Pilates exercises involve controlled movements that require a full range of motion, helping to improve flexibility and joint mobility.

Seeking Professional Help

If you are experiencing persistent limited range of motion despite your efforts to improve flexibility and mobility, it may be beneficial to seek professional help. A physical therapist or a qualified healthcare professional can assess your condition and provide targeted treatments and exercises to address your specific limitations.

Remember, improving range of motion takes time and consistency. It is important to listen to your body and not push yourself too hard, as this can lead to further injury. Start with gentle exercises and gradually increase intensity and duration as your flexibility and mobility improve.


Limited range of motion can be caused by various factors, including injury, arthritis, muscle imbalances, scar tissue, and age. However, through a combination of mobility exercises, stretching exercises, and targeted workouts like yoga or Pilates, you can improve flexibility and increase your range of motion. If your limited range of motion persists, it is advisable to seek professional help for a comprehensive assessment and personalized treatment plan. Remember to be patient and consistent in your efforts, and soon you will be enjoying improved flexibility and mobility.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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