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Abduction vs. Adduction: What do they mean?

Medically reviewed by Sally Chao, MD. Last updated on Oct 1, 2021.

Official answer


Abduction and adduction are terms that refer to certain body motions or movements.

Abduction is the opposite of adduction.

  • With abduction, limbs (arms, legs or fingers) are moved away from your body’s midline.
  • Adduction, however, refers to moving your limbs closer to the midline.

Both types of movements are important for strength and balance.


  • Arm abduction is the movement of your arms out and away from your body’s center, and arm adduction is moving them back toward your center.

  • Shoulder abduction involves lifting the arms out to the side (as with a lateral dumbbell raise), while shoulder adduction means lowering the arms back to the side (as with a banded lateral pull-down exercise).

  • With fingers and toes, the midline is in the hand and foot respectively, as opposed to your body’s core midline. Finger abduction involves spreading the fingers out, while finger adduction calls for bringing them back to the center.

Here is an example of side-lying hip abduction and adduction exercises.

Side-lying hip abduction (this moves your leg away from your body’s midline)

  • Lie on one side with hips, knees and legs in a straight line.
  • Raise the top leg up about 45° and hold it for up to 5 seconds.
  • Lower the leg slowly.

Side-lying hip adduction (this pulses your lower leg toward your body’s midline)

  • Lie on one side with hips, knees and legs in a straight line.
  • Bend your top leg and plant your foot in front of your hip on the ground, crossing it over the bottom leg.
  • Raise the lower leg about 6 to 8 inches from the ground, and hold it for up for 5 seconds.
  • Lower the bottom leg and repeat.

Research in a 2019 study in PLOS One showed that low strength in hip abductors and adductors could contribute to falls. Training these muscles could help stave off falls and their downstream consequences.

  1. Lam JH, Bordoni B. Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Arm Abductor Muscles. StatPearls. 2021. .
  2. Pine Plains Central School District. Side-Lying Hip Abduction. Available at: . [Accessed September 23, 2021].
  3. Daun F, Kibele A. Different strength declines in leg primary movers versus stabilizers across age—Implications for the risk of falls in older adults? PLoS ONE. 2019; 14(3): e0213361. .