What Is Hip Range of Motion?

Range of motion (ROM) is a measurement of the distance and direction a joint can move to its full potential. Hip ROM is dictated by the ball-and-socket hip joint, which is made up of the femur and pelvis. They fit together in a way that allows for fluid, repeated motion—and a fair amount of wear and tear—but it isn’t indestructible.

Obesity, a fall, infections, or even just chronic wear and tear can cause damage to your hip, which can then affect your hip ROM.

measuring hip ROM

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How Is Range of Motion Measured?

There are two types of range of motion:

  • Passive range of motion: This is movement around a joint when you are not using your muscles. Oftentimes a health care professional will ask you to relax and move your leg for you to measure your passive range of motion.
  • Active: Being able to independently move your leg without assistance. After an injury, infection, or trauma, your active ROM may be limited. Strengthening exercises and stretching help to increase ROM.

ROM is measured by a health care professional—usually a physical therapist, physiatrist, family medicine doctor, or orthopedic surgeon—using a device called a goniometer.

What Is a Goniometer?

A goniometer is a metal or plastic device with two arms that is used to measure a joint's range of motion (ROM). The goniometer is placed along the hip joint and measured by looking at the numbers that represent angular distance on the device.

How the Hip Joint Moves

The hip joint is a ball and socket joint that is covered by cartilage and coated in synovial fluid to allow for smooth movement of the leg. Here are the ways in which the leg can move:

  • Abduction: Sideways movement of the leg away from your body
  • Adduction: Inward movement of the leg toward the midline of your body
  • Extension: Moving your thigh backwards, towards your buttocks
  • Flexion: Moving your thigh forwards, towards your chest
  • External rotation: Putting your leg into a butterfly position
  • Internal rotation: Curling your leg into the fetal position

What Is Normal Hip ROM?

Hip ROM is measured in degrees of movement. Normal movement of the hips allows for 3 degrees of movement, which means your leg should be able to move freely in 6 different directions within 3 planes.

Normal hip ROM is as follows:

  • Abduction: 0 to 45 degrees
  • Adduction: 45 to 0 degrees
  • Extension: 115 to 0 degrees
  • Flexion: 0 to 125 degrees
  • External rotation: 0 to 45 degrees
  • Internal rotation: 0 to 45 degrees

Causes of Limited Hip ROM

Any condition that causes swelling, inflammation, pain, discomfort, mechanical issues, or spasticity of the muscles around the hip can cause you to lose some ROM. Some conditions that lead to limited hip ROM include:

When to See a Doctor

If you experience any of the below symptoms, you should call your doctor:

  • Hip stiffness accompanied by pain or fever
  • Sudden or intense pain
  • Joint deformity
  • Rapid swelling
  • Warmth or discoloration of the hip

Timely medical treatment may help you to avoid serious complications. 

Most conditions that impact your hip’s range of motion are chronic in nature. If you notice that you are gradually losing ROM, are altering your gait, or can no longer perform your activities of daily living, you may want to see a health care professional.

They may suggest conservative treatment like:

  • The R.I.C.E. protocol
  • Use of over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory medication
  • Physical therapy

If conservative treatment is not helpful after 3 months, a cortisone shot and surgery may be discussed.

How to Improve Hip ROM 

Poor hip mobility can contribute to issues like lower back pain and knee problems, so improving hip ROM is important.

Stretching exercises can help many of the muscles that support your hip joint. These include:

  • Prone hip rotation
  • Piriformis stretch
  • Frog stretch
  • Butterfly stretch
  • Kneeling lunges

Muscle-strengthening exercises can also help to improve hip ROM. Some of these exercises include:

  • Hip hikers
  • Bridges (single and double leg bridges)
  • Hip squeezes
  • Single leg raises (with and without ankle weights)
  • Side leg raises (with and without ankle weights)

These exercises should first be performed under the guidance of a health care professional to make sure you are performing them properly and without pain.

Lastly, treating the underlying cause of your hip pain with medication, weight loss, or surgery, is a sure way to ameliorate your pain and thereby increasing your ROM.

 A Word From Verywell

Your hips are involved in all or most of your movements. When they’re not moving well, there’s a chain reaction of restriction. The quickest way to get back to performing your daily activities free of pain and restrictions is to craft a holistic plan that includes healthy eating, stretching, strengthening exercises, and the use of anti-inflammatory medication, when needed.

Implementing a daily stretch and exercise routine is a simple and effective way to increase your ROM; and can be modified up or down depending on your current abilities and limitations. The key to seeing improvement in your ROM is to stick with it. Depending on the extent of your injury, progress may seem slow, but for most people achieving your ROM goals is within reach.

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