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Understanding Active vs Passive Exercises to Customize Rehabilitation to Your Ability Level

physiotherapist helping stroke patient with forward bend passive exercise

Knowing the difference between active and passive exercise can help you understand what your rehabilitation process will encompass.

In this article, you’ll learn the difference between active and passive exercise, who should use them, and how they can benefit your rehabilitation program. Use the links below to jump straight to any section:

What Are Passive Exercises?

physical therapist helping stroke survivor with passive exercise by moving her arm

Passive exercises are also known aspassive range of motion (ROM) exercises; and your range of motion includes how far you can move your joints in different directions. These exercises are considered passive because you don’t exert any effort. Instead, someone helps you move your muscles and joints through their full range of motion for you.

Who Can Benefit from Passive Exercises?

Passive range of motion exercises are great for patients withhemiplegia(paralysis on one side of the body) orspasticity(stiff, tight muscles after neurological injury).

When you cannot move your limbs on your own, passive exercise allows a therapist or caregiver to move your body for you. Although passive exercise does not require effort on your behalf, the movement still carries many benefits.

For instance, movement improves blood flow in the affected areas and provides sensory stimulation to the limb. Passive stretching also helpsprevent spasticity from worsening.

Passive exercises provide the most effective benefits when they are used consistently over a long period of time. Consistent repetition of therapeutic movements helps sparkneuroplasticity: the mechanism the brain uses to rewire itself.

However, in order for passive exercise toinduceneuroplasticity,attention must be paid to the movement. Passive exercise won’t be helpful if done while distracted or disengaged in the activity. Patients must focus on the passive movements in order to benefit from it.

What Are Active Exercises?

physical therapist helping elderly stroke survivors with active exercise from a quadruped position

Active exercises involve your physical effort exerted into muscular activity.

These exercises can include active range of motion, like self-stretching, or generalstroke rehabilitation exerciseswhere you move your muscles through therapeutic movements.

When you’re doing the exercises yourself, it’s active exercise.

Movement difficulties occur after neurological injury because the brain cannot send the correct signals to the affected muscles. Rehabilitation exercise encourages the brain to rewire itself through neuroplasticity, which improves its ability to send signals to your muscles.

Neuroplasticity occurs with both passive and active exercise, but more with active exercise. Active exercise also helps with muscle strengthening. This is particularly beneficial ifmuscle atrophyhas occurred from less daily movement.

Want 25 pages of stroke recovery exercises in a PDF?Click here to download our free Stroke Rehab Exercise ebook now(link opens a pop up for uninterrupted reading)

Who Can Benefit from Active Exercises?

Patients that struggle withhemiparesis(weakness on one side of the body) can benefit from active exercise. As long as the person has some movement of their muscles (even if the control is not substantial), they can benefit from active exercises.

When mobility is limited and restricted by conditions likespasticity, passive exercises can be done before active exercise. This helps warm up the muscles and prepare them for active use.

Patients who have some movement of their affected side, and working towards regaining more mobility, can begin with active exercises. However, ask your physical therapist what’s right for you. Some range-of-motion exercises are recommended regardless of mobility level.

Just like passive exercise, active exercise benefits patients by stimulating neuroplasticity. Frequently practicing active rehab exercises will provide the brain with the stimulation it needs to rewire itself.

Exercises to Get You Started

occupational therapist helping stroke survivor with resistance training exercise

Now that you know the difference between active and passive exercise, do you feel like your rehabilitation regimen is properly adapted to your ability level?

If yes, that’s great! If not, then talk with your therapist. Ask her to adjust your current exercises or recommend new ones. Many therapists are eager for patients to exercise at home, because healing involves the patient taking charge of their exercises and that’s when the best results are achieved.

为了帮助实现这一目的,家庭康复锻炼设备江南官方体育app下载ioslikeFitMi home therapyhelp motivate patients to exercise at home. This device is therapist-approved because it adapts to your ability level, and patients can practice both passive or active exercises.

Rehab devices have higher compliance rates than written sheets of exercise, which means that patients see better results with interesting equipment. However, some patients prefer written sheets.

To help you get started, here are some free exercise guides from our rehabilitation blog:

Passive Exercise Guides:

Active Exercise Guides:

Select exercises and practice them consistently in order to see the best results. If you’re unsure of selecting the right exercises for you, ask your therapist for recommendations.

We hope this article helps you on the road to recovery.

Keep it Going: Get a Free Rehab Exercise Ebook (25 page PDF)

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Get Inspired with This Stroke Survivor Story

Mom gets better every day!

“When my 84-year-old Mom had a stoke on May 2, the right side of her body was rendered useless. In the past six months, she has been blessed with a supportive medical team, therapy team, and family team that has worked together to gain remarkable results.

While she still struggles with her right side, she can walk (with assistance) and is beginning to get her right arm and hand more functional. We invested in theFitMi + MusicGlove + Tablet bundlefor her at the beginning of August.

She lights up when we bring it out and enjoys using it for about 20 to 30 minutes at a time. While she still doesn’t have enough strength to perform some of the exercises, she rocks the ones she can do! Thanks for creating such powerful tools to help those of us caring for stroke patients. What you do really matters!”

-David H.

FitMiis a neurorehab device that you can use from the comfort of home. It works by motivating you to accomplish high repetition of therapeutic exercises.

As you work through the program, you’ll unlock more difficult exercises when you’re ready. It’s like having a virtual therapist available anytime you need it.


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Saw results within a few days

“I bought FitMi about a month and a half ago. Quite impressed with the range of exercises for hand, arm, leg and foot. I suffered a stroke about 2 years ago which paralyzed my right side. I do walk now with a cane or walker, but my right hand curls up and my right arm is also weak. Within a few days of trying it out, I could note a distinct improvement in stamina before tiring. So, I am looking forward to continued improvement.”


Not only is FitMi approved by survivors, but it’s also approved by therapists, too. FitMi is used in some of the top clinics in the world, including theShirley Ryan Ability Lab, the #1 ranked rehab hospital in America. Plus, two PTs on YouTube with over 3 million subscribers (you may know them asBob & Brad)gave FitMi the thumbs up, too.

To learn more about this motion-sensing, game-changing recovery tool, click the button below:

FitMi home therapy program software on tablet with blue and yellow