What do the words mean?? - Forelimb and Hindlimb directional terms

As physios we use a variety of different terms to describe how your pet moves and stands but what do they mean: I will be doing a series of blogs explaining what they mean, why we look out for them and how they can affect your horse or dog.


Basic limb movements

Protraction: the limb moves forwards with the forelimb moving away from the centre and the hindlimb towards the centre

Retraction: the limb moves backwards with the forelimb moving towards the centre and the hindlimb away



Adduction: the limb moves towards the midline of the body



Abduction: the limb moves away from the midline of the body



Basic joint movements

Flexion: this is where the space between the two bones that make up the joint becomes smaller and so reduces the angle.

Extension: where the space between the two bones making up the joint increases and then increases the angle.

Rotation: a small twisting movement around the point of the joint

Below each movement are the major muscles that are involved in creating that movement

Shoulder movement:

Flexion: when the limb is retracted and flexed upwards (jumping position)

- Triceps brachii

- Infraspinatus

- Deltoid

- Teres major and minor

- Latissimus dorsi

Extension: when the limb is protracted

- Supraspinatus

- Biceps brachii


Elbow movement:

Flexion: when the limb protracted there is a small amount of flexion but true flexion of the elbow occurs when flexed upwards (jumping position)

- Biceps brachii

- Brachialis

Extension: when the limb is retracted

- Triceps brachii

- Tensor fasciae antebrachii



Carpal movement:

Flexion: when the limb is retracted

- Distal forelimb flexors

Extension: when the limb is protracted

- Biceps brachii

- Radial carpal extensor

- Common digital extensor


Fetlock movement:

Flexion: when the limb is flexed upwards (jumping position) you will also flex the fetlock when picking out your horses feet

- Distal forelimb flexors

Extension: when the limb is protracted

Lateral digital extensor


Digit (P1,2 & 3) movement:

Flexion: when the limb is flexed upwards (jumping position) you will also flex the digits when picking out your horses feet

- Superficial digital flexor

- Deep digital flexor

Extension: when the limb is protracted

- Common digital extensor

Rotation: allows for further movement of the limb as well as reducing the risk of injury

Hip movement:

Flexion: when the limb is protracted

- Superficial gluteal (in the horse)

- Tensor faciae latae

- Rectus femoris

- Sartorius

- Iliopsoas

Extension: when the limb is retracted

- Gluteals

- Biceps femoris

- Semitendinosus

- Semimembranosus



Stifle movement:

Flexion: when the limb is flexed upwards

- Biceps femoris

- Semimembranosus

- Semitendinosus

- Gastrocnemius

Extension: the stifle has a moment of extension in both protraction and retraction/in stance

- Tensor fasciae latae

- Quadriceps

- Biceps femoris

- Semitendinosus

- Semimembranosus

- Gracilis



Hock movement:

Flexion: when the limb is protracted and flexed upwards

- Tibialis cranialis

- Long and lateral digital extensors

Extension: when the limb is retracted

- Superficial digital flexor

- Biceps femoris

- Semitendinosus

- Semimembranosus (in the dog)

- Gastrocnemius


Watching your animals while your walking your dog, lunging your horse, a video of you riding and generally as they go about their day can give a great insight into how they move. Restrictions in movement, in any direction, can be indicators to potential injuries and discomfort. For example horses that are reluctant to work from behind may be unable to due to tight muscles or pain and dogs with reduced movement in their hindlimb can be an indicator of cranial cruciate ligament injuries or hip dysplasia. Knowing how your pet moves means you are more likely to notice changes sooner. If you think your pet may be restricted we can use a variety of massage techniques, electrotherapies and stretching to improve their range of motion so don’t hesitate to message us for an appointment if you think your pet may benefit