Glossary of Physical Therapy

Abduction – A movement of a limb away from midline or the center of the body

Adduction – A movement of a limb toward midline or the center of the body

Ataxia – Muscular uncoordination especially manifested when voluntary muscular movements are attempted

Base of support – The weight-bearing surface of the body. For example: in standing = the feet

Bilateral – Pertaining to two sides of the body, as in: both arms or both legs

Calcaneal Valgum – Angling of the heel of the foot outward, thereby flattening the arch of the foot

Calcaneal Varum – Angling of the heel of the foot inward, thereby increasing or heightening the arch of the foot

Cervical – Pertaining to the neck

Core – Pertaining to the trunk (primarily abdominals and back)

Dissociation – To separate. For example: one extremity/limb performs a movement without the other extremity doing the same or similar movement at the same time

Distal – Farthest from the center, from midline or from the trunk

Dynamic – Pertaining to vital forces or inherent power; refers to the body in motion; opposite of stationary

Extension – A straightening or backward movement of the spine or limbs

External rotation – An outward turning of the limb away from the body

Flexion – A bending or forward movement of the spine or limbs

Genu Valgum – Angling of the knees inward as in “knock kneed”

Genu Varum – Angling of the knees outward as in “bow legged”

Gross Motor – Refers to movement of large muscle groups

Hamstrings – A muscle group on the back of the thigh that can bend/flex the knee and straighten/extend the hip

Hyperextension – Excessive movement in the direction of extension

Hypermobility – Movement beyond normal range of motion

Hypertonic – Muscle tone higher than normal; resistance to passive movement; in extreme form = spasticity

Hypotonic – Less than normal tone; floppy

Internal rotation – An inward turning of the limb toward the body

Instability – Lack of firmness in weight-bearing. Difficulty maintaining weight bearing

Kinesthesia – Conscious awareness (perception) of body movement (direction and speed), detected by joints

Kyphosis – An increased convexity in the curvature of the thoracic spine (hunchback)

Long-sitting – Sitting with legs straight out in front

Lordosis – An anterior/forward curvature of the lumbar and cervical vertebrae (spine). An increase is often referred to as “sway-back”

Lumbar – Pertaining to the low back

Midline – The theoretical lines that divide the body into two equal halves vertically or horizontally

Motor Control – The ability of the central nervous system to regulate or direct the musculoskeletal system in a purposeful act

Motor Planning – The ability to organize and perform movement in a meaningful manner

Obliquity – A slanting

Pes Planus – Flat feet

Prone – Lying on the belly, face down

Proprioception – The awareness of posture, movement, changes in equilibrium, and the knowledge of position, weight, and resistance of objects in relation to the body; sensed by muscles, tendons, and soft tissue

Proximal – Nearest to the point of attachment or center of the body

Quadriceps – A large muscle group on the anterior/front surface of the thigh responsible for knee extension

Range of Motion – A measure of the amount of movement/motion available at any given joint of the body

Recurvatum – A backward bending, frequently referring to the knees

Reflex – An involuntary/automatic response to a stimulus

Ring Sitting – Sitting on the buttocks with legs forming a ring in front (not crossed)

Sacral – The triangular-shaped bone below the lumbar spine formed, typically, by the fusion of 5 vertebrae

Side-sitting – Sitting on one hip with legs flexed to the opposite side

Spasticity – Hypertension of muscles causing stiff and awkward movements

Static – At rest; in equilibrium; not in motion

Supine – Lying on the back, face up

Symmetrical – Referring to symmetry of the body, whose right and left halves are mirror images of each other

Tactile Defensiveness – A negative response or increased sensitivity to touch

Tailor-sitting – Buttocks on the floor with legs flexed and crossed (“pretzel sitting”)

Thoracic – Pertaining to or affecting the chest or upper back

Tone (muscle) – The degree of tension normally present in the resting state of a muscle

Unilateral – Affecting or occurring on only one side of the body

Vestibular Stimulation – Stimulation of the vestibular apparatus (bones of the inner ear and canals) that provides information regarding acceleration and the position of the body in space

Weight shift – Translation or movement of body weight from one side to another, forward or back