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Passive Range of Motion Exercises for Stroke Patients to Help Improve Mobility

man stretching wrist for passive range of motion exercises for stroke patients at home

Passive range of motion exercises for stroke patients can help reduce spasticity and eventually improve mobility.

Hopefully you can work some of these range of motion exercises into your daily routine.

But first, it’s important to understand the difference between active and passive exercise.

Passive vs. Active Range of Motion

Passive range of motion exercises refer to movements in which you exert no effort in the targeted muscles. 

Passive range of motion exercises can be performed on your own (with the help of your non-affected side) or with the help of another person (like a therapist or trained caregiver).

Active range of motion exercises, on the other hand, refer to any movements you complete without assistance that take your joints through part or all of their range of motion.

Therefore, range of motion exercises can be performed passively or actively (where ‘actively’ simply means you perform the movement yourself).

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Passive Range of Motion Exercises for Stroke Patients

Here are some of the best passive ROM exercises from Barbara, OTA (occupational therapy assistant). While you are doing these, remember to never stretch to the point of pain.

1. Forearm Stretch

occupational therapist demonstrating passive range of motion exercises for stroke patients

From a seated position, place your hands in your lap. Then, interlace your fingers, and bend your wrist forward, stretching your affected arm palm-side up. You should feel this stretch all the way up your forearm.

Hold this stretch for 20 seconds and release. Then, repeat on the other side.

2. Wrist Stretch

OTA demonstrating passive wrist exercise

With your fingers still interlaced, gently bend your affected wrist backward and get a nice stretch there.

Hold this stretch for 20 seconds and release. Repeat on the other side.

And remember: never stretch to the point of pain.

3. Cane Stretch

You will need: a cane and a chair.

cane stretch for stroke recovery

Sit in a chair and place your affected hand on a cane, then place your other hand on top.

With the cane in front of your affected side, lean into the cane and put some of your body weight into your affected side.

Hold for 5 seconds and return to center. Repeat 5 times.

4. Cane Circles

You will need: a cane and a chair.

occupational therapist leaning on cane for passive exercise

From the same seated position as the Cane Stretch, begin to make large circles with your body, using the cane for balance.

Repeat 5 times in each direction.

5. Cane Outside Stretch

You will need: a cane and a chair.

physical therapist demonstrating seated range of motion exercise

Lastly, use the cane for support as you lean out toward your affected side.

Move slowly and safely to get a good stretch.

6. Cane Reach Movement

You will need: a cane and a chair.

therapist using cane to stretch arm

Grasp both ends of a cane and then push your affected arm up towards the ceiling on your affected side.

Feel the stretch as you slowly push your affected arm up into an extended position.

Hold for a few seconds and slowly return to center. Repeat 5 times.

To increase this stretch, slightly turn your head toward your affected side. This will make your body turn that way too and increase the stretch from this exercise.

If you have very stiff arms and can’t reach your arm up very high, just try your best. This stretch will still benefit you.

7. Straight Push Movement

You will need: a table and a water bottle.

occupational therapist sliding water bottle across table for passive rom exercises

Clasp your hands and place your arms on the table. Then, place a water bottle in front of you as your target.

Then, glide your arms across the table towards the water bottle. If your hands stick to the table, you can place a washcloth underneath them as you move. Stretch as you lean forward and nudge the bottle further away, Then, return to an upright position.

Repeat 5 times and try to stretch a little further each time and nudge the bottle a little more.

8. Circle Movement

You will need: a table and a water bottle.

tabletop range of motion exercise with water bottle demonstrated by physical therapist

With your hands still clasped around the water bottle, make big circles around the table.

Do a few circles one way, and then do a few the opposite direction.

Benefits of Range of Motion Exercises

There are many benefits of these passive range of motion exercises for stroke patients.

For one, it helps reduce spasticity and muscle stiffness.  It also helps increase muscle flexibility and prevent painful contractures. It may also help reduce swelling.

Movement also helps prevent learned nonuse, a phenomenon where your brain completely forgets how to use your affected muscles.

Learned nonuse can easily be prevented by moving your affected muscles a little every day.

Even if you can’t move your muscles yourself, passive exercise helps send signals to your brain to stimulate the connection.

Never Stretch to the Point of Pain!

Before we conclude this article, we’d like to remind you to never stretch to the point of pain.

Stretching until it’s painful is not helpful and can actually cause serious damage. Always stretch safely!

We hope you enjoyed these passive range of motion exercises.

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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.

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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!”

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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.”


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