Movement, Muscles, and joints: A little bit about how you can move

Movement, Muscles, and joints

Ever wondered how you are able to do the Human Movements you do every day? Be it something as complex as dodging a bullet or something far less complex like walking. This article will explain some of the most basic human movements of the human body. Unfortunately, we cannot cover the kinesiology movements that take place when someone dodges a bullet and we at Sports and Exercise Dev SA hope you never have to dodge a bullet but if you have a body that’s capable of such movements. Let us know, we might have an award for you.

The human body has approximately 640 skeletal muscles. It’s very difficult to give an exact number of muscles because different sources group muscles differently but 640 is not far from the exact number. These muscles are grouped into three types in the human body: Visceral, Cardiac and Skeletal muscle.

  • Visceral muscle tissue, or smooth muscle, is tissue associated with the internal organs of the body, especially those in the abdominal cavity.
  • Cardiac muscles are the specialized striated muscle tissue of the heart; the myocardium.
  • Skeletal muscles are connected to the skeleton to form part of the mechanical system that moves the limbs and other parts of the body.

The focus here is on skeletal muscles, the ones that are commonly used every day to do the everyday activity. It is important to note that muscles can only produce movements by contracting. This means that no muscle in the human body can help you move any body part by extending, movement can only be produced by contract. There are three types of muscle contractions in human movement: Concentric, eccentric contractions and Isometric Contractions. Muscles are attached to bones by tendons at two points, the origin, and insertion. Movement is produced by the contraction of muscles which then move the bones at the attachments and that is how the body is able to move.

Below is a breakdown of muscle that aid in

  • The movement of the arm and shoulder
  • The movement of the hip and thighs
  • The movement of the knees and ankles

The movement of the arm and shoulder: Drinking coffee

Firstly the arm and shoulder, so how are you able to lift that morning cup coffee. The movement of bending the arm at the elbow is known as Elbow Flexion. One is able to bend the elbow because of the muscles mostly located at the anterior side of the upper arm. These are the biceps brachii, brachialis and brachioradialis and most of them cover the humerus. The humerus is the bone between the elbow and shoulder.

The biceps brachii is the prime mover in elbow flexion, its origin (the attachment site that does not move during contraction) is the short head from the coracoid process; the long head from the supraglenoid tubercle (both on the scapula) and the insertion (the attachment site that does move during contraction) is the Radial tuberosity. The origin of the brachialis is the anterior, distal surface of the humerus and the origin is at the ulnar tuberosity. The third muscle that helps you bend the elbow is the brachioradialis and its origin is the ridge superior to the lateral epicondyle of the humerus and its insertion is the lateral aspect of the styloid process of the radius. These groups of muscles contract collectively to bend the arm at the elbow. Making you lift your cup of coffee

When you have to put the cup down you extend the elbow. To do this the opposing muscles contract. Those muscles are collectively known as the elbow extensors: Anconeus, Triceps brachii (lateral head, long head, and medial head). The origin of the Anconeus is the posterior surface of the lateral humerus and its insertion is the Lateral margin of the olecranon and ulnar shaft. The insertion of the triceps, the group of muscles at the back of the arm is the Olecranon of the ulna, the origin of the lateral head is the Superior, lateral margin of humerus, that of the long head is the Infraglenoid tubercle of the scapula and that of the meadial head is the posterior surface of the humerus, inferior to radial groove.

Movements of the shoulder

To bring the cup of coffee to your mouth you will have to move the shoulder as well. Most muscles that move the shoulder lie on top of the shoulder joint. Shoulder flexion is the lifting of the arm out in front of the body and up overhead. We certainly hope you will not lift your coffee over your head. The chest muscle known as the Pectoralis Major is the major muscle involved shoulder flexion, and it is attached to the humerus and upper arm bone. The anterior deltoid is another shoulder flexor, its insertion is on the Deltoid tuberosity of the humerus and its origin is at the Clavicle and scapula. The coracobrachialis originates at in the coracoid process of the shoulder blade and attaches to the humerus, it also a shoulder flexor. The long head of the biceps (as discussed above) is also a shoulder flexor. The combination of the teres major and scapularis assist other muscles in shoulder flexion.

The opposite of shoulder flexion is shoulder extension, bringing the arm back down. Gravity certainly does play a role but the shoulder extensors muscles are the latissimus dorsi, teres major, pectoralis major, the posterior deltoid and the long head of the triceps. When the arm is pulled further back past the hip that is also known as the extension of the shoulder.

The shoulder is also capable of other more complex movements which we will not discuss in detail but we certainly hope they help you if need to dodge a bullet. Try to keep up! Shoulder abduction is the elevation of the arms sideways, shoulder adduction is the reverse movement. Adduction of the shoulder can also take place in the horizontal plane. When the right-hand shoulder is in flexion (directly in front of you) and you swing it horizontally to the right that is known as horizontal abduction. Swinging the same arm from flexion to the left is known as horizontal adduction. Still using the right arm, when the elbow is in flexion (bending the arm at the elbow) twisting the ulna and radius away from the center of the body is called lateral rotation. Bringing the arm back is referred to as medial rotation.

The muscles involved in the above movements are the coracobrachialis which does these actions: adduction and flexion at the shoulder. The deltoid whole muscle: abduction of the shoulder; anterior part: flexion and medial rotation of the humerus; posterior part: extension and lateral rotation of the humerus. The Supraspinatus for Abduction at the shoulder. The Infraspinatus does a lateral rotation at the shoulder and the subscapularis: medial rotation at the shoulder. The teres major is responsible for extension and medial rotation at the shoulder and the teres minor: lateral rotation and adduction at the shoulder.

The movement of the hip and thighs: The samba dance

The movements that can be carried out at the hip joint are flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, and medial and lateral rotation. Hip flexion is bringing the leg forward toward the stomach with the knee bent or not. An extension is pulling the leg back toward the back of the body. Abduction is the movement of the leg away from the midline of the body, adduction is the movement of the leg away from the midline of the body.

The muscles responsible for Flexion are the Iliopsoas, rectus femoris, and Sartorius. The muscles responsible for hip Extension are the Gluteus maximus, semimembranous, semitendinosus and biceps femoris. Abduction is produced by the Gluteus medius, gluteus minimus and the deep gluteals (piriformis, gemelli etc). Adduction movements are done by the adductors longus, brevis and magnus,pectineus and gracillis. Lateral rotation is produced by the biceps femoris, gluteus maximus, and the deep gluteals (piriformis, gemelli etc) and Medial rotation movements are produced by the gluteus medius and minimus, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. The Gluteus maximus is the muscle you seat with on the butt. All the other muscles are found in the thigh area.

The gluteus maximus has its origin on the iliac crest, posterior gluteal line, and lateral surface of ilium; sacrum, coccyx, and thoracolumbar fascia and the insertion is at the Iliotibial tract and gluteal tuberosity of femur. The femur is the bone between the thigh and knee.

The movement of the knees and ankles: Running and walking 

There are four main movements that the knee joint permits. Flexion, Extension, Lateral rotation, Medial rotation. Knee flexion is the bending of the leg at the knee. The other movements are similar to the movements of the elbow.

Flexion of the knee is produced by the hamstrings, gracilis, sartorius, and popliteus. An extension is produced by the quadriceps femoris, which inserts into the tibial tuberosity. Lateral rotation is produced by the biceps femoris and Medial rotation is produced by five muscles, the semimembranosus, semitendinosus, gracilis, sartorius and popliteus.

The hamstrings consist of three muscles: biceps femoris, semitendinosis, semimembranosis. The origin of the biceps femoris is the Ischial tuberosity and linea aspera of femur, the insertion is at the head of fibula, lateral condyle of tibia. The semitendinosus and semimembranosus have their origin on the Ischial tuberosity. The insertion of the semimembranosus muscle is the posterior surface of the medial condyle of the tibia. The semitendinosus has its insertion on the Proximal, medial surface of tibia near insertion of gracilis. The Sartorius originates at the anterior superior iliac spine and the insertion at the medial surface of tibia near tibial tuberosity. The last knee flexor the popliteus has its origin on the lateral condyle of the femur and the origin at the Posterior surface of the proximal tibial shaft.

The movements of the ankle

The movements of the knee are dorsiflexion (flexion): dorsal flexion; movement of the top of the ankle and foot toward the anterior tibia bone. Plantar flexion (extension): movement of the ankle and foot away from the tibia. Eversion which is turning the ankle and foot outward; abduction, away from the midline; weight is on the medial edge of the foot and eversion which is turning the ankle and foot inward; adduction, toward the midline; weight is on the lateral edge of the foot. Even though the muscles of the feet and ankle might help you dodge a bullet, they are too several to mention in this article.

The knowledge of muscular anatomy helps bodybuilders, medics and movement coaches in their efforts to recovery and optimizing human movements, and further give advice on how to move better to avoid future injuries.

Healthy muscles let you move freely and keep your body strong. They help you to enjoy playing sports, dancing, walking the dog, swimming, and other fun activities. They also help you do those other (not so fun) things that you have to do, like making the bed, vacuuming the carpet, or work.

That is the basics of how the Muscles, Bones, and Joints work together to enable you to move and perform everyday activities. Please share this article if you found it useful. Don’t forget to subscribe for more content like this. Until next time. Keep Moving.

Key definitions

Kinesiology is the study of the mechanics of body movements.

Muscle contractions:
  • Concentric contraction is the shortening muscle actively,
  • Eccentric contraction is the lengthening of muscle actively
  • Isometric contraction is muscle actively held at a fixed length
Anatomical Movements
  • Flexion: the bending movement that decreases the angle between two parts
  • Extension: the opposite of flexion; a straightening movement that increases the angle between body parts
  • Abduction: motion that pulls a structure or part away from the midline of the body
  • Adduction: motion that pulls a structure or part towards the midline of the body
  • Lateral Rotation: turning outward
  • Medial Rotation: turning inward
  • Eversion: the movement of the sole of the foot away from the median plane

Eversion: the movement of the sole of the foot away from the median plane 

Tendons: a flexible but inelastic cord of strong fibrous collagen tissue attaching a muscle to a bone.

Muscle origin: the attachment site that does not move during contraction)

Muscle insertion: the attachment site that does move during contraction)


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 Key references

Dail, N. W. (2011) Companion guide to measurement and evaluation for kinesiology. Sudbury, MA : Jones & Bartlett Learning

Floyd, R. T. (2015) Manual of structural kinesiology. New York: McGraw-Hill Education

Wallace, S. A. (2011) Introduction to kinesiology: the science of human physical activit. San Diego : Cognella.

Hamilton, N. (2008) Kinesiology: scientific basis of human motion. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Lippert, L. (2006) Clinical kinesiology and anatomy. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis

Thando W. Dlamini, BA

Sport Development and Exercise Science Practitioner

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