What Are the Differences Between Passive and Active Exercise?

During active exercise, a person contracts and relaxes muscles directly while during passive exercise the muscles are moved by an outside force, such as another body part, a machine or another person. Passive exercise is useful for maintaining and increasing range of motion as part of a rehabilitation program.

Active exercises require exertion to move the muscles. This includes stretching to improve range of motion, resistance training to build muscle mass, and aerobic exercises in which the muscles move the body to increase the heart rate. Active exercises are also useful in rehabilitation to develop nerve pathways and make it easier to control action. Active exercises provide more benefits than passive exercises and are preferred in the rehabilitation process when not contraindicated by health conditions or ability.

Passive exercises require no effort on the part of the person exercising. A helper or machine moves the body to work the muscle. In rehabilitation programs, the goal of passive exercises is increasing range of motion and joint function while preventing muscle stiffness and loss of tissue . Regular passive exercise also reduces muscle spasms in some patients with neurological damage. Passive exercises are part of the rehabilitation process for many patients following joint replacement surgery or while recovering from stroke or paralysis.