Elderly Range of Motion - Exercises for Mobility

Range of motion exercises help keep the joints mobile and flexible. Many seniors live sedentary lifestyles and don't get adequate amounts of exercise, which includes weight bearing, aerobic, or range of motion.

Joints may often stiffen painfully as a result of medical conditions like osteoporosis or arthritis. Exercises such as these may help maintain mobility and flexibility. Other exercises could help improve balance, reducing fall risks for your loved one.

About Range of Motion

Exercises are considered to be either active or passive. Active exercises are those performed by the individual, while passive exercises are performed by a caregiver or physical therapist.

When performing passive exercise for a senior, caregivers need to carefully assess body positioning and support the joint or joints being exercised. A standard rule of thumb is to brace or offer support above and below the working joint. 

For example, when performing passive exercise on the elbow joint, the caregiver should place or support one hand above the elbow and the other hand on the forearm or wrist area while working the elbow joint.

When working an ankle joint, the caregiver should place one hand on the calf of the working leg and the other hand should carefully grasp around the instep or ball of the foot.

Caregivers should receive instruction regarding proper placement and positioning of joints prior to passive exercises in order to determine correct degrees of rotation, flexion and extension.

Understanding terminology often utilized in physical therapy and range of motion exercise is also important. For example understanding the difference between forward flexion and hyper-extension. 

Try This: Stand with your arms placed by your sides. Slowly lift your right arm upward until it's level with your chest. This is a 90°forward flexion. As you raise your arm upward over your shoulder, you'll reach 180°of forward flexion. Slowly swing your arm back down to your side and then press your arm toward the rear of your body. You should be able to reach approximately 50° hyper-extension, meaning extending the arm behind you.

It's important to understand the normal range of motion for individuals so that you don't extend or hyper extend joint movements too far or cause pain or discomfort for your loved one.

Understanding the difference between outward rotation (external) and inward rotation (internal) is important for performing exercises.

With proper instruction and guidance, it's possible to maintain or even increase the range of motion in joints, depending on medical condition. Caregivers should speak to their elder's primary medical provider in order to determine the proper flexion and positioning for the joints as well as type, duration and sequence of passive exercises for optimal benefits.

Active exercises are done by the individual himself. For example, Dad can watch TV and rotate his wrist joints clockwise, then counterclockwise for 10 minutes. He can do the same with his ankle joint. Lifting the arm, extending the arms and turning the palms up, then rotating the palms downward is also an active exercise.

Caregivers should realize the exercises do not build muscle strength or promote muscle growth, but merely keep the joints; tendons, ligaments, and muscles flexible, supple and lubricated.
Muscle strengthening exercises may be performed using light hand weights and weight bearing activities to maintain or increase muscle mass, strength and endurance.

Benefits Of Range Of Motion Exercises

The preservation of mobility and flexibility are just two of the benefits of exercises. Exercises also offer an effective method of stretching that helps keeps joints limber, flexible and mobile. Greater independence and coordination are also several of the benefits of exercises that help to maintain the current movement range of various joints as well as help to decrease or reduce contractures or stiffening of the joints.

Caution - It is strongly recommended to always speak with your doctor or medical professional before attempting any exercises.

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