Range of Motion Exercises - 3 Types Explained

By Team Movement For Life | April 19, 2018


Physical therapy involves several kinds of range of motion exercises. Among these, one of the most useful are exercises that improve and facilitate the range of motion. The range of motion is the phrase physical therapists use to describe how much movement you can make with a joint or a part of your body. When your range of motion is affected, you’ll find that it isn’t possible to move a particular body part comfortably around its joint.

Range of motion can be affected by several different causes: sprained joints or pulled muscles resulting from an accident or a sports injury, post-surgical lack of exercise, and a general lack of exercise can also result in a reduction in the range of motion. Range of motion exercises that target these affected areas can help undo the damage and restore free and unrestrained movement to your joints and muscles.

There are three basic kinds of range of motion exercises for correcting and restoring your range of motion. They’re designed to address the kind of problem you’re having, and to help you to rebuild strength and range of motion without doing further damage. Depending on your injury, you’ll do one or a mixture of these different types of exercise: passive, active-passive, and active. Here’s a breakdown of how they work.

Passive range of motion exercises – These are useful for joints that have become inactive due to injury or paralysis. In passive range of motion exercises, the patient does not perform any movement themselves; instead, the therapist moves the limb or body part around the stiff joint, gently stretching muscles and reminding them how to move correctly. In most cases, therapeutic stretching exercises are also combined with passive range of motion exercises to promote faster recovery. Here, the therapist stretches the patient’s soft tissue to relax the surrounding muscles and relieve tension. Passive range of motion exercises also help minimize stiffness and rigidity in the joints that have been immobilized.


Active-assistive range of motion exercises – As the name suggests, these exercises involve partial assistance from the therapist. The patient does most of the movement, but they get a little help to complete the movements correctly. In most cases, this restricted motion is a result of weakness or pain caused due to falls, bruises, or accidents, up to serious injuries. The therapist mostly uses a strap or a band to secure the joint before assisting the movements. Initially, the patient may suffer a great deal of pain and weakness when performing these exercises. However, with time, they have a great scope for gradual and lasting improvement in the range of motion around the affected joint.


Active range of motion exercises – These exercises involve very little assistance from the physical therapist. The patient is entirely capable of performing these exercises, and most often, the therapist’s involvement is limited to verbal cues and directions on how to improve the posture and movement involved in the exercises. They are most useful in cases of minor injuries that do not severely restrict the movement of body parts, but are painful, uncomfortable, or hindering nevertheless.

Pro tip #1: If are looking for more information on the benefits of physical therapy see out other blog post.

Pro tip #2: If your interested in learning about the different types of physical therapy see our post here.