How to Measure Lumbar Range of Motion? A Bubble Inclinometer.

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How to Measure Lumbar Range of Motion? A Bubble Inclinometer.

Range of motion is assessed by a qualified healthcare professional to identify impairments and functional limitations.  Range of motion is an objective measurement that can be used to measure progress of a given individual during their episode of care.  When measuring range of motion, especially the spine, a bubble inclinometer may be your best choice.

What Are Bubble Inclinometers and How Are They Used?

What Are Bubble Inclinometers and How Are They Used?

Bubble Inclinometers are used to measure range-of-motion. Standards are codified in the AMA Guide to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment, third edition. Place inclinometer near joint to be measured; turn dial until scale reads 0; take joint through its range; read range traveled directly from dial. Some neck and back measurement protocols require the simultaneous use of 2 inclinometers. 

Why Should We Use Them?

According to the literature, it is important for clinicians to have reliable and valid measurement instruments to be able to measure objectively and accurately monitor disease progression and outcomes.1

Inclinometers are portable, lightweight, and inexpensive pieces of equipment that are used to measure range of motion, like goniometry.1 Inclinometers are typically found in clinics and are used as a part of a physical examination.  An intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC) was found to be between 0.87-0.95.1,2 Meaning, the use of a bubble inclinometer demonstrated good reliability.1,2   

Also, using an iPhone® showed to be a reliable instrument while utilizing certain applications can measure lumbar range of motion effectively.1 However, an iPhone® should not be interchangeable with a bubble inclinometer.1 Further research is warranted to explore the use of phone applications to appropriately assess range of motion regarding inclinometry.

Inclinometers are important instruments to objectively measure range of motion.  Healthcare professionals should seek out the most reliable and valid instruments to obtain the most accurate measurements possible.  

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


  1. Kolber MJ, Pizzini M, Robison A, Yanez D, and Hanney WJ. The reliability and concurrent validity of measurements used to quantify lumbar spine mobility: an analysis of an iPhone® application and gravity based inclinometry. IJSPT, 2013, 8(2): 129-137.
  2. Waddell et al. Spine, 1992; 17:617-628.