Physiocare Rimbey

Active Physiotherapy Treatment
Passive Physiotherapy Treatment

What is Passive Physiotherapy?

Passive physiotherapy treatments involve techniques where the patient is passive, meaning they are not actively participating in movements or exercises. These treatments are typically administered by a Physiotherapist.  Examples of passive treatments include the use of heat or ice packs or the application of a TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator) machine or other types of electrical modalities.


What is Active Physiotherapy Treatment?

Active physiotherapy treatments involve exercises and activities in which the patient actively participates to improve strength, flexibility, balance, coordination, and overall function. These treatments aim to restore mobility, reduce pain, prevent further injury, and promote overall health and well-being.

Why are we talking about this?

As a consumer, it is reasonable to expect to get the most out of the time and dollars you spend on physiotherapy.  If your treatment isn’t helping with your symptoms and ability to manage your injury or condition, continuing with the same program is a waste of time and money. This may ultimately result in delayed recovery and delayed return to the activities you enjoy. Research tells us that when passive treatments are the only treatments a person receives, it often leads to these delays.

When do Passive Physiotherapy Treatments make sense?

Home remedies such as heat, ice or some rented or privately purchased machines can make you feel more comfortable in the early stages of an injury. Your physiotherapist may suggest using these passive treatments until things have settled a bit. Once your injury is less acute it is recommended that you start a more active physiotherapy program and/or receive information on how you can resume activities on your own.

Similarly, heat and ice may be applied during your physiotherapy appointment. Physiotherapists often apply heat or ice to provide a short-term decrease of pain and/or swelling. This may make it easier for you to participate in your exercise program or may be used after a more aggressive treatment session to settle the joints or muscles the treatment focused on.

The use of variouselectrical modalitiesmay also provide some relief of pain or help manage inflammation. However, as with all passive treatments, these machines should not be offered as the primary treatment and should only be used as part of an active physiotherapy program.

When do Passive Physiotherapy treatments not make sense?

Although passive techniques may have a role to play in reducing inflammation or discomfort or enabling movement, you should be wary if they are the only treatment provided or if the use of one or more of these passive treatments takes up more of your physiotherapy visit than time spent in active exercise or treatment. Using passive treatments as the focus of physiotherapy is discouraged because only having therapy done to you may reinforce feelings of powerlessness and places the responsibility for recovery solely in the hands of your physiotherapist. If you do not learn how and when to move, you may continue to be anxious about becoming more physically active in spite of evidence that shows movement as the best treatment for many conditions.

Continuing to pay for sessions that include only passive treatments such as heat, ice, electric modalities or needling is likely a waste of money and time.

To Summarize:

A physiotherapist’s role is to restore, maintain and maximize movement, function, and quality of life. It makes sense that you can’t restore or maximize movement without moving! Although passive techniques may have a role to play in reducing inflammation or discomfort and/or making movement easier, they should not be the focus of your physiotherapy. There is considerable evidence that exercise is the treatment of choice for a multitude of health concerns that physiotherapists treat. When passive treatment approaches are combined with exercise, they can help to improve outcomes.


  • Image from
  • Thanks to College of Physiotherapists of Alberta for this wonderful article. For further information, please visit:

Contact us today to experience the Physiocare Rimbey difference and embark on a path to enhanced well-being.