Abduction and Adduction: Definition, Examples, Differences and Other Movements Involved

Abduction and adduction are movements of the extremities in the plane of coronal movement (medial-lateral).

Moving the limb or hand laterally away from the body, or extending the fingers of the hands or feet, is an abduction.

The adduction brings the limb or hand to or through the midline of the body, or join the fingers of the hands or feet.

Circumvallation is the movement of the limb, hand or fingers in a circular pattern, using the sequential combination of movements of flexion, adduction, extension and abduction.

While all body systems contain many mysteries, the way our bodies move is fascinating. Just think of all the ways you can move!

And not only as a whole; every part of the body can move independently of other parts of the body.

Of course, with all these possibilities, doctors, physical fitness professionals and researchers need a common language to describe the movements of our bodies.

We can not simply depend on ‘up’, ‘down’, ‘right’ and ‘left’ because bending the knee will result in different types of movement depending on whether you are standing or lying down.


When describing body movements, we usually refer to which joint is moving (such as the shoulder or wrist) or which part is moving (such as the leg or finger) and what type of movement it is doing.

The movement can occur in a plane, as with a knee flexion, or in multiple planes, such as shoulder movement.

Adduction occurs when a joint moves a part of the body toward the midline in a plane.

The midline is an imaginary line that runs from the top of the head to between the feet while standing, traveling through the abdominal cavity.

Examples of adduction:

Before starting with the examples, keep in mind that the adduction does not have to be all or nothing. Just moving the limbs a little is still adduction.

Adduction of the shoulder / arm : The upper part of the arm (humerus) moves from a position in a straight line from the body. Due to the wide range of motion of this spherical joint, the shoulder is also capable of horizontal adduction.

In this case, the upper arm moves from a straight position from the body and moves towards the middle line with the arm parallel to the floor.

Adduction of the hip / leg: the upper part of the leg (bone of the femur) moves from an inverted position in V inwards, towards the other leg.

Adduction of the fingers : the fingers (metacarpals) begin in an extended position and move together.


Abduction is any movement of the extremities or other parts of the body that moves away from the midline of the body.

The movement of the hands from the side of the body to the shoulder or higher is abduction.

For the fingers and toes, abduction separates the digits of the hand or foot from the center line.

Raising the arms laterally, to the sides and move the knees away from the midline are some examples of abduction.

The abduction of the wrist, moving the hand away from the body on the wrist when that arm is on the person’s side, is called radial deviation. Any muscle that creates this type of movement is called an abductor.

Abduction examples:

Abduction of an arm (or arms): raise one arm (or both arms) from a straight position that rests loosely on the side of the body to the side, therefore right arm to the right, left arm to the left, until arm stay straight.

Form a horizontal line that extends outward from the shoulder joint with the result that the hand is one arm farther from the part closest to the spine than it was before the movement began.

Abduction of a leg: from a right vertical position with both legs straight and with a weight evenly distributed on both legs, lift one leg off the ground (not the “abduction” part of the movement, that is, the elevation).

Then, keeping the leg straight on the knee, move to the side of the body, therefore, the left leg to the left or the right to the right.

This movement results in the formation of a triangle with the two straight legs forming one side of the triangle each and an imaginary line between the ankles or feet forming the third line.

The result is that the ankle and foot that have moved are further away from the midline through the center of the body than before the start of the movement.

What is the difference between abduction and adduction?

  • Abduction is the movement that separates a structure from the middle line. In contrast, adduction is the movement that pulls a structure toward the midline of the body.
  • Adduction is the movement of the fingers towards the limb, while abduction is the movement of the fingers away from the limb.
  • The adduction of the wrist is called ulnar deviation, while the abduction of the wrist is called radial deviation.

Other movements involved

Flexion and extension

Flexion and extension are movements that take place within the sagittal plane and involve anterior or posterior movements of the body or limbs.

For the spine, it is an anterior (forward) flexion of the neck or body, while the extension involves a backward movement, such as smoothing from a bent or bent back position.

Lateral flexion is the flexion of the neck or body to the right or left side. These movements of the spine involve both the articulation of the symphysis formed by each intervertebral disc.

As the flat synovial joint type formed between the inferior articular processes of a vertebra and the superior articular processes of the next inferior vertebra.

In the extremities, the flexion decreases the angle between the bones (flexion of the joint), while the extension increases the angle and straightens the joint.

For the upper extremity, all previous movements are flexion and all subsequent movements are extension.

These include anteroposterior movements of the arm in the shoulder, the forearm in the elbow, the hand in the wrist and the fingers in the metacarpophalangeal and interphalangeal joints.

For the thumb, the extension moves the thumb away from the palm of the hand, in the same plane as the palm, while the flexion brings the thumb back against the index or toward the palm.

These movements take place in the first carpometacarpal joint. In the lower extremity, bringing the thigh forward and up is the flexion in the hip joint, while any posterior movement of the thigh is the extension.

Keep in mind that the extension of the thigh beyond the anatomical position (standing) is very limited by the ligaments that support the hip joint.

The flexion of the knee is to bring the foot to the back of the thigh, and the extension is the straightening of the knee.

The movements of flexion and extension are observed in the hinge, condyle, saddle joints and patella of the extremities.


The circumvallation is the movement of a region of the body of circular shape, in which one end of the region of the moving body remains relatively stationary, while the other end describes a circle.

It involves the sequential combination of flexion, adduction, extension and abduction in a joint. This type of movement is found in the biaxial condyle and in the joints of the saddle, and in the multi-axial spherical joints.


The rotation can occur inside the spine, in a pivot joint, or in a spherical joint.

The rotation of the neck or body is the torsion movement produced by the sum of the small movements of rotation available between adjacent vertebrae. In a pivot joint, a bone rotates relative to another bone.

This is a uniaxial joint and, therefore, rotation is the only movement allowed in a pivot joint.

This allows the head to turn from one side to the other as when shaking the head “no”. The proximal radioulnar joint is a pivot joint formed by the head of the radius and its articulation with the ulna.

Rotation can also occur in the spherical joints of the shoulder and hip. Here, the humerus and femur rotate around their long axis, which moves the anterior surface of the arm or thigh to or from the midline of the body.

The movement that brings the anterior surface of the limb towards the midline of the body is called medial (internal) rotation.

On the contrary, the rotation of the limb so that the anterior surface moves away from the midline is the lateral (external) rotation.

Be sure to distinguish medial and lateral rotation, which can only occur in the multiaxial joints of the shoulder and hip, of the bypass, which can occur in biaxial or multiaxial joints.

The turning of the head from side to side or the twisting of the body is rotation.

The medial and lateral rotation of the upper limb in the shoulder or lower extremity in the hip involves turning the anterior surface of the limb towards the midline of the body (internal rotation) or moving away from the midline (lateral or external rotation).

Supination and pronation

Supination and pronation are movements of the forearm. In the anatomical position, the upper extremity is held to the side of the body with the palm facing forward.

This is the supine position of the forearm. In this position, the radius and the ulna are parallel to each other. When the palm of the hand looks back, the forearm is in pronation position, and the radius and ulna form an X.

Supination and pronation are the forearm movements that go between these two positions. Pronation is the movement that moves the forearm from the supine (anatomical) position to the pronation position (palm to the back).

This movement is produced by the rotation of the radius in the proximal radioulnar joint, accompanied by the movement of the radius in the distal radioulnar joint.

The proximal radioulnar joint is a pivot joint that allows rotation of the head of the radius. Due to the slight curvature of the radius axis, this rotation causes the distal end of the radius to cross the distal part of the radioulnar joint.

This crossing brings the radius and the ulna to an X-shaped position. Supination is the opposite movement, in which the rotation of the radius returns the bones to their parallel positions and moves the palm towards the anterior (supinated) position.

It is useful to remember that supination is the movement that is used when taking soup with a spoon.

Dorsiflexion and plantar flexion

Dorsiflexion and plantar flexion are movements in the ankle joint, which is a hinge joint.

Lifting the front of the foot, so that the top of the foot moves towards the front leg is dorsiflexion, while raising the heel of the foot of the ground or pointing the fingers down is plantar flexion.

These are the only movements available in the ankle joint.

Investment and eversion

The inversion and the eversion are complex movements that involve multiple flat joints between the tarsal bones of the posterior foot and therefore are not movements that take place in the ankle joint.

The inversion consists in turning the foot to tilt the lower part of the foot toward the midline, while the eversion moves the lower part of the foot away from the midline. The foot has a greater range of investment than the eversion movement.

These are important movements that help stabilize the foot when walking or running on an uneven surface and help in rapid changes from side to side in the direction used during active sports such as basketball, racquetball or soccer.

Protraction and retraction

Protraction and retraction are anteroposterior movements of the scapula or jaw. The protraction of the scapula occurs when the shoulder moves forward, as when pushing against something or throwing a ball.

Retraction is the opposite movement, with the scapula pulled back and inward, towards the spine.

For the jaw, protraction occurs when the lower jaw is pushed forward, to pull out the chin, while the retraction pulls the lower jaw back.

Depression and elevation

Depression and elevation are downward and upward movements of the scapula or jaw. The upward movement of the scapula and shoulder is elevation, while a downward movement is depression.

These movements are used to shrug. Similarly, the elevation of the jaw is the upward movement of the lower jaw used to close the mouth or bite something, and depression is the downward movement that produces the opening of the mouth.

Upper rotation and lower rotation

The upper and lower rotation are movements of the scapula and are defined by the direction of movement of the glenoid cavity.

These movements involve the rotation of the scapula around a point inferior to the scapular spine and are produced by combinations of muscles that act on the scapula.

During upper rotation, the glenoid cavity moves upward as the medial end of the scapular spine moves downward. This is a very important movement that contributes to the abduction of the upper limbs.

Without superior rotation of the scapula, the greater part of the humerus would strike the acromion of the scapula, thus avoiding any abduction of the arm above the height of the shoulder.

Therefore, a superior rotation of the scapula is required for complete abduction of the upper extremity. The upper rotation is also used without abduction of the arm when a heavy load is carried with the hand or on the shoulder.

You can feel this rotation when you pick up a load, like a heavy backpack and carry it alone on one shoulder. To increase the weight support for the bag, the shoulder rises as the scapula rotates upward.

The inferior rotation occurs during the adduction of the limb and involves the downward movement of the glenoid cavity with an upward movement of the medial end of the scapular spine.

Opposition and replacement

Opposition is the movement of the thumb that puts the tip of the finger in contact with the tip of another finger.

This movement occurs in the first carpometacarpal joint, which is a saddle joint formed between the trapezius carpus bone and the first metacarpal bone.

The opposition of the thumb is produced by a combination of flexion and abduction of the thumb in this joint. Returning the thumb to its anatomical position next to the index finger is called repositioning.