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Moment of Inertia vs. Polar Moment of Inertia: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 2, 2023
Moment of Inertia (I) refers to the resistance of a shape to rotational deformation. Polar Moment of Inertia (J) refers to the resistance of a shape to torsional deformation.

Key Differences

The moment of inertia, denoted typically as I, refers to a measure that describes an object's resistance to changes in its rotational motion about a particular axis. It calculates how the object's mass is distributed relative to an axis of rotation, integrating mass times the square of its perpendicular distance to the axis. The polar moment of inertia, on the other hand, designated as J, also quantifies resistance to torsional deformation but considers rotation about a perpendicular axis to the object's cross-sectional area. Thus, while both pertain to an object's resistance to a change in motion, their computational axis and application context diverge.
In the context of structural engineering or physics, the moment of inertia plays a crucial role in analyzing beams under bending moments. It helps determine how a beam will deform and what stresses it will undergo when subjected to a bending moment. The polar moment of inertia assists in understanding how a shaft or some structural element will behave under torsion. As the beam bends, the moment of inertia is pivotal in predicting the resulting stress and strain, whereas the polar moment of inertia predicts shear stress and angular deformation resultant from torsional moments.
Calculating the moment of inertia involves integrating over the entire volume of the body, considering the mass of infinitesimally small parts and their distance squared from the axis of rotation. In contrast, the polar moment of inertia is typically calculated for shafts or cylindrical objects subjected to torsional loading, and it is an integration of an area times the square of its distance from the axis. Consequently, while both incorporate a square distance parameter and an integration over a shape, they operate over different dimensions and under distinct mechanical scenarios.
In essence, both moment of inertia and polar moment of inertia represent mathematical integrations that assist engineers and physicists in predicting an object’s reaction to applied moments. The moment of inertia primarily deals with the bending of beams and is integral in bending stress equations. Polar moment of inertia, however, is crucial in predicting the shear stress and angular displacement in an object—particularly cylindrical—undergoing torsion. While both properties describe how material is distributed about an axis, they apply in distinct scenarios: bending and torsion, respectively.

Comparison Chart

Type of Motion



Bending moments
Twisting moments


About an axis
About a point

Moment of Inertia and Polar Moment of Inertia Definitions

Moment of Inertia

Moment of inertia is a scalar, not a vector, despite relating to rotational motion.
The moment of inertia of a cylinder is calculated without considering the direction of rotation.

Polar Moment of Inertia

Torsional Deformation Measure: Polar moment of inertia gauges an object’s resistance to torsional deformation.
A hollow tube may have significant polar moment of inertia despite its light weight.

Moment of Inertia

It is fundamentally a geometrical property, calculated using geometrical formulas.
The moment of inertia of a rectangular section is bh³/12 about its base.

Polar Moment of Inertia

Respect to a Point: Contrary to I, J is calculated with respect to a point, not an axis.
The polar moment of inertia considers the mass distribution about a central point.

Moment of Inertia

It reflects how an object resists angular acceleration.
A ring has a larger moment of inertia than a solid disk of the same mass and radius.

Polar Moment of Inertia

Sum of Planar Moments: It is calculated as the sum of the object's planar moments of inertia.
J for a solid shaft is determined by summing its two principal planar moments of inertia.

Moment of Inertia

Moment of inertia quantifies how mass is spatially distributed in an object.
A thin rod has a different moment of inertia when rotated about its end than its center.

Polar Moment of Inertia

Associated with Angular Motion: Pertinent to objects undergoing angular motion such as twisting.
Rotating machinery components are often analyzed for their polar moment of inertia.

Moment of Inertia

The calculated value is always about/relative to a specific axis.
A sphere’s moment of inertia changes value when computed about different axes.

Polar Moment of Inertia

Applicable to Shaft-Like Bodies: Commonly used in analyzing shafts and similar objects under torsion.
Engineers scrutinize the polar moment of inertia of driveshafts in vehicle design.


What is the polar moment of inertia?

The polar moment of inertia measures an object’s resistance to torsional (twisting) deformation about a point.

How is the moment of inertia generally represented?

Moment of inertia is often symbolized as "I".

Can an object’s moment of inertia be negative?

No, since it involves squaring distance in its calculation, I cannot be negative.

Why is the moment of inertia important in engineering?

Moment of inertia helps in analyzing and designing structures and mechanical components by predicting their rotational behavior.

What is the difference in calculating I and J for a hollow cylinder?

I is calculated considering the mass distribution about a specific axis, while J is calculated about a point, usually at the center, and considers torsional deformation.

What is the moment of inertia?

The moment of inertia quantifies an object's resistance to rotational motion about an axis.

What symbol commonly represents polar moment of inertia?

Polar moment of inertia is frequently denoted as "J".

Why is the moment of inertia axis-specific?

I depends on the axis because the mass distribution relative to the axis directly impacts rotational resistance.

How are the moments of inertia used in the design of beams?

In beam design, the moment of inertia indicates how the beam will behave under bending and helps optimize shape for stiffness.

Does changing material properties affect the polar moment of inertia?

No, J is purely a geometric property and isn’t impacted by material changes.

In what practical applications are both I and J considered simultaneously?

In mechanical engineering, particularly machinery design involving both rotational and torsional motions, both I and J are crucial.

Can moment of inertia and polar moment of inertia be equal?

Yes, in certain symmetrical shapes and uniform objects, I and J can be equal.

Is the moment of inertia affected by the mass distribution?

Yes, the farther the mass is from the rotation axis, the greater the moment of inertia.

When is the polar moment of inertia utilized in practical applications?

It is extensively used in the design and analysis of shafts and axles under torsion.

Does polar moment of inertia depend on the axis of rotation?

No, it depends on the point about which it is calculated, usually the object's center.

Are moment of inertia and polar moment of inertia scalar quantities?

Yes, both are scalar quantities as they do not have a direction.

How does shape impact the moment of inertia?

Different shapes have different formulas for calculating I, reflecting how mass is distributed concerning the rotational axis.

How is the polar moment of inertia calculated for composite sections?

For composite sections, J is calculated by summing the polar moment of inertia of each component about the same point.

Can the polar moment of inertia be zero?

No, since it involves a sum of squared distances, J cannot be zero.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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