Definition and Overview

Therapeutic exercise is defined as movements of the body that can improve health and well-being, correct deformity, restore the function of the musculoskeletal system, and, to a certain extent, improve mood and focus.

The exercises used in this type of therapy generally fall into three major categories: resistance, endurance, and flexibility. Resistance training refers to exercises that enhance the strength of the muscles by doing the movements against and opposite force. Resistance exercises may be performed with steady muscle length (isometric), steady contraction of the shortened muscles (isotonic), or with a consistent angular velocity of the muscles (isokinetic).

Endurance, on the other hand, works with large muscle groups and the cardiovascular muscles. It is based on the amount or volume of oxygen uptake. A good example of an endurance exercise is running on a treadmill. While it improves the person’s ability to last in a certain exercise, it also strengthens the heart and is sometimes used to assess the functions of the heart and lungs.

Flexibility is necessary to improve the range of motion of the muscles. Unlike endurance, it is performed in slow counts and a more controlled manner.

Programs can combine all of them in one session or break them down into specific sections. Regardless, they should be customized depending on the existing condition of the patient and health goals.

Who Should Undergo and Expected Results

Therapeutic exercises are helpful for a wide variety of people across multiple ages, but they especially beneficial to:

  • Stroke patients
  • Patients with obesity and diabetes mellitus
  • People with neuromuscular disorders including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease
  • People with osteoporosis or multiple sclerosis
  • Those who struggle with balance
  • Bedridden patients

The effects of therapeutic exercises can significantly vary. For example, some conditions are more responsive to either resistance or flexibility, while the benefits may be mild, moderate, or extreme.

In cases of bedridden patients or those who are mainly immobilized, the exercises may require the assistance of a trainer or a physical therapist. They may also be active, in which the patient controls a specific muscle with the help of a therapist, or passive, where an individual or a machine controls the movements of the muscles.

The exercises are expected to:

  • Promote relaxation
  • Mobilize the joints and reduce muscle stiffness
  • Relieve physical pain
  • Enhance balance and body coordination
  • Increase oxygen uptake or respiratory function
  • Boost blood circulation

How Does the Procedure Work?

The first step is to identify the kinds of therapeutic exercises that may be performed by the individual. Medical evaluation involves a comprehensive physical examination, lab tests, and review of medical history. The person’s heart rate and other vital signs are monitored, especially if they are predisposed to certain conditions like arrhythmia.

There are three factors that are considered in designing the therapeutic exercise program: frequency, duration, and intensity. Frequency refers to the number of times the sessions are performed while duration means the length of time each session is carried out. The intensity refers to the targeted heart rate, oxygen uptake, and the overall power placed on every exercise session.

These three can differ depending on the exercises whether they are flexibility, endurance, or resistance, and the present condition of the patient. For example, in endurance or cardiovascular exercise, the target is ideally five days per week for around an hour, but it may begin at three days per week for 20 minutes each day. Then, as the patient progresses, the intensity, frequency, and duration can also be increased. Usually, though, the exercise session lasts longer when the intensity is low.

Possible Risks and Complications

Therapeutic exercises need to be constantly supervised especially when performed by the high-risk group to ensure the patients don’t develop injuries.


  • White, P. The Lancet, published online Feb. 18, 2011.
  • Bleijenberg, G. and Knoop, H. The Lancet, published online Feb. 18, 2011.
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