Difference Between Active & Passive Range of Motion

By Carol Wiley

Range of motion (ROM) refers to how far a joint moves. Active range of motion is how far you can move your own joint. Passive range of motion is how far someone else can move your joint if you are completely relaxed.


Passive ROM is greater than active range because the muscles surrounding the joint are relaxed.

Injury ROM

Injury range of motion.

According to the book, "Therapeutic Massage in Athletics," passive range-of-motion tests can help a therapist evaluate a joint injury to determine if a structure other than a muscle (ligament, cartilage, bursa) is involved in the injury.

Passive ROM Exercises

Physical therapy.

Therapists often use passive ROM exercises for rehab when people are not yet able to actively participate in exercise.

Improving ROM

Improve range of motion by stretching.

You can improve your range of motion through regular movement and stretching.

Stretching Duration

Stretch for a significant amount of time.

The British study, "Effect of Stretching Duration on Active and Passive Range of Motion in the Lower Extremity," looked at the effects of five-second versus 15-second stretches on range of motion. The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 1999, suggested that holding stretches for 15 seconds may improve active ROM more than five-second stretches. However, the longer stretch may not significantly improve passive ROM.


About the Author

Carol Wiley started writing as a technical writer/editor in 1990, was a licensed massage therapist for almost 12 years and has been writing Web content since 2003. She has a Bachelor of Science in aerospace engineering, a Master of Business Administration, a Certificate in Technical Writing and Editing and a Certificate in Massage Therapy.

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