Movements of the arm

Last revised by Patrick O'Shea on 17 Sep 2023

The glenohumeral joint is highly mobile resulting in a wide range of movements of the arm

Arm flexion

Arm flexion represents rotation in the anatomic plane such that the distal humerus moves ventrally. It represents raising the arm anteriorly and isolated flexion can achieve approximately 150-170° of movement.

Arm extension

Arm extension represents the opposite movement to arm flexion and can only be achieved to about 40° of movement in most individuals.

Arm abduction

Arm abduction represents movement of the arm away from the midline of the body and, in most cases isolated abduction can be achieved to 160-180°.

Arm adduction

Arm adduction represents movement of the arm towards the midline and most individuals can manage 40° of isolated adduction.

Arm internal rotation

Internal (medial) rotation represents the movement of the humerus when an arm flexed to 90° at the elbow is rotated around the longitudinal plane of the humerus such that the hand moves towards the midline of the body. The degree of rotation is dependent on the degree of abduction at the shoulder. In adduction, internal rotation can be up to 70°. As the arm is abducted this increases towards 95°.

Arm external rotation

External (lateral) rotation describes external rotation of the humeral around its longitudinal axis. As with medial (internal) rotation, the degree of rotation is dependent on the degree of abduction. When the arm is adducted, medial rotation of 40-55° is possible. However, as the arm is abducted, this increases towards 70°.


Circumduction is the orderly combination of shoulder flexion, abduction, extension and abduction (or the reverse) to trace a cone with the arm. It is hence produced by co-ordination of all the muscles that produce these individual movements but also relies on other joints of the pectoral girdle such and the acromioclavicular joint and scapulothoracic joint.

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