Skip to main content

Passive Range of Motion Exercises

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 2, 2022.

What are passive range of motion exercises?

Passive range of motion exercises help keep a person's joints flexible. Range of motion is how far the person's joints can be moved in different directions. The exercises help you move all the person's joints through their full range of motion.

What do I need to know about passive range of motion exercises?

  • Do the exercises every day, or as often as directed by the person's healthcare provider. Regular movement helps prevent contractures. Contractures are severely tightened joints and muscles.
  • You may do the exercises in any order. You may spread the exercises out over the course of the day. All the exercises may be done while the person lies in bed.
  • Move the person slowly, gently, and smoothly. Avoid fast or jerky motions.
  • Support the area near the joint as shown by the person's healthcare provider. Move the person's body part with your other hand.
  • Each joint should be moved as far it will go. Move each joint to the point where you feel some resistance. The person may feel discomfort, but do not push to where it hurts. Hold the position a few seconds, and then return the person to a resting position.
  • Do the exercises on both sides. Do each group of exercises on one side, and then do the same exercises on the other side.

Neck exercises:

Support the person's head with your hands. Gently return the person's head to the middle, facing forward, after each exercise.

  • Head turns: Turn the person's head to the side. Then turn his or her head to the other side.
  • Head tilts: Tilt the person's head, bringing the ear toward the shoulder. Then tilt the person's head toward the other shoulder.
  • Chin-to-chest: Gently bow the person's head toward his or her chest.

Shoulder and elbow exercises:

Support the person's elbow with one hand. Hold his or her wrist with your other hand.

  • Shoulder movement, up and down: Raise the person's arm forward and then up over his or her head. Bring the arm back down to the person's side.
  • Shoulder movement, side to side: Raise the person's arm to the side as far as it will go. Bring the arm back down to the person's side.
  • Elbow bends: Place the person's arm at his or her side with the palm facing up. Bend and straighten the arm.

Arm and wrist exercises:

Support the person's wrist with one hand. Hold his or her fingers with your other hand.

  • Wrist bends: Bend the person's hand back toward his or her shoulder. The fingers should point toward the ceiling. Then bend the person's hand down so his or her fingers point toward the floor.
  • Wrist rotation: Rock the person's hand back and forth sideways. Gently roll the person's hand in circles in one direction. Then roll the hand in circles the other direction.
  • Palm up, palm down: Tuck the person's elbow against his or her side. Turn his or her hand so the palm faces up toward the ceiling. Then turn the palm so it faces down.

Hand and finger exercises:

Hold the person's hand with both of your hands. Hold his or her hand out toward yourself, with the fingers long.

  • Finger bends: Curl the fingers into a fist. Straighten the fingers again. Curl and straighten each finger one at a time. Curl and straighten the thumb.
  • Finger spreads: Spread the thumb and first finger apart, then bring them back together. Spread the first finger and middle finger apart, then bring them back together. Do the same with the rest of the fingers.
  • Finger-to-thumb touches: Touch the person's fingertips to the pad of his or her thumb, one finger at time.
  • Finger rotations: Roll each finger in a circle in one direction. Roll each finger in the other direction. Roll the thumb in each direction.

Hip and knee exercises:

Start with the person's legs straight. Put one hand under his or her knee. Hold the ankle with your other hand.

  • Hip and knee bends: Slowly bend the person's knee up as close to his or her chest as possible. Then gently straighten the leg.
  • Leg movement, side to side: Move one leg out to the side, away from the other leg. Bring the leg back to the middle and cross it over the other leg.
  • Leg rotation, in and out: Roll one of the person's legs toward the other leg so the toes point in. Then roll the leg out toward the side so the toes point out.

Ankle and foot exercises:

Put a rolled towel under the person's thigh. For the ankle exercises, support the person's ankle with one hand, and his or her toes with the other hand. For the toe exercises, allow the person's foot to relax on the bed, and hold only the toes.

  • Ankle bends: Bend the person's foot so the toes point toward the ceiling. Then bend the person's foot the other direction so the toes are pointed.
  • Ankle rotation: Raise the person's foot slightly off the bed. Roll the foot in circles. Then roll the foot in circles in the other direction.
  • Ankle movement, side to side: Tilt the person's ankle in so the sole of the foot points toward the opposite leg. Then tilt the person's ankle out so the sole of the foot points away from the opposite leg.
  • Toe bends: Curl the person's toes down toward the sole of the foot. Straighten them. Curl the toes up toward the ceiling. Then straighten them again.
  • Toe spreads: Spread the big toe and the second toe apart, then bring them back together. Do the same with the rest of the toes.

When should I contact the person's healthcare provider?

  • The person feels pain with any movement.
  • You cannot move the person's body, because the joints and muscles have tightened.
  • You have questions or concerns about the person's condition, care, or exercise program.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Ā© Copyright IBM Corporation 2022 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotesĀ® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.