What’s the Difference Between Active and Passive Physical Therapy?

Many people who receive physical therapy do so after an orthopedic injury or some other ailment that affects how they move. When prescribing this type of treatment, otherwise referred to as conservative treatment, doctors will usually make a distinction between two types of therapy— active physical therapy versus passive physical therapy. This can sometimes leave our patients in the dark— what’s the difference between the two? Why one and not the other?

Active Physical Therapy

One major aspect of active physical therapy is the emphasis it puts on the patient to contribute to their own treatment. This is means that, through active physical therapy, patients must actively participate in learning and performing the recommended exercises, stretches, and other treatments. In short, the patient must exert physical work.

According to David Cosio, PhD, active physical therapy differs from passive therapy in that “Active, or activating, treatments can be available where and when the patient needs to manage the pain.” Active physical therapy can also stimulate the brain, and can have positive effects on the body as well, especially when it comes to healing.

Passive Physical Therapy

Passive physical therapy means the patient is the submissive recipient of treatment, or having the treatment done to them, as opposed to doing the action themselves. Generally speaking, passive therapy is meant for acute pain, such as lower back pain after a strain, rather than chronic conditions. Passive therapy techniques, or modalities, are often performed under the supervision of a chiropractor.

There are many different modalities that would be considered passive physical therapy. According to Spine-Health, “Heat and/or ice are easily available and are the most commonly used type of modality. Each type of therapy helps reduce muscle spasm and inflammation.” Another option is iontophoresis, a process in which steroids are delivered through the skin. There are even some exercises that are considered passive, according to Monmouth Pain and Rehabilitation. “Passive exercises involve the patient allowing a therapist to move their body for them in an effort to regain range of motion.”

Have you been recommended physical therapy? Consider Healthpointe— our decades-spanning career in orthopedic medicine has granted us extensive knowledge and experience in physical therapy. Make an appointment today.


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