Goniometers: What Are We Really Measuring?

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Goniometers: What Are We Really Measuring?

Goniometry is typically utilized in common practice among physical therapists, occupational therapists, and other healthcare professionals. Goniometry allows the clinician to be able to measure the range of motion of specific joints of the body.

Measurements are generally taken as a part of a thorough physical examination. We use this information to determine if patients demonstrate range of motion is within normal or functional limits. If deficits are noted, this can be then an impairment to focus on to help improve overall functional mobility. We then use the goniometer to measure and reassess progress throughout the episode of care. We ensure to document these findings to we are better able to monitor progress.

However, I would argue that we aren’t just measuring range of motion of the patient. I believe that we are measuring far more than what is at face value. Let’s look at a short example:

Mr. Smith is a 67-year-old male who underwent a total knee replacement 4 weeks ago. Mr. Smith is a 67-year-old male who is very active individual and regularly participates in exercise including weight training and running in races. He has no remarkable past medical history.

Mr. Smith has been going to physical therapy for a few weeks. He initially saw progress very quickly and was very optimistic. However, over the next couple of weeks he has noticed that his range of motion starting to plateau, especially in knee flexion range of motion. He is only able to reach 85 degrees.

I am sure it can be difficult and somewhat discouraging to see such a lack of progress, according to Mr. Smith’s perspective. For the most part, we always want to see progress. However, when faced with a lack of success, patients can be faced with many emotions and ideations. We need to be able to recognize individual:

  1. Perspectives
  2. Belief systems
  3. Values
  4. Expectations

Doing this will allow clinicians to better understand, show empathy, and compassion. These factors are not only assessed during the first visit, but the subsequent visits thereafter. We must utilize a patient-focused approach to ensure our patients can succeed.

We aren’t necessarily measuring range of motion all the time, but we are measuring other factors that can influence the episode of care. Therefore, we need to be able to recognize these influences so we can better provide a high level of care with a high level of compassion.

So next time you pick up a goniometer, what are you really measuring?

Article Written By: Eric Trauber, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS, FAAOMPT