Blog Fitness Therapeutic Exercises: Definition, Types, and Benefits for Long-Term Health

Therapeutic Exercises: Definition, Types, and Benefits for Long-Term Health

Skeletal and muscular health is a key aspect of overall well-being, yet it is often neglected or compromised over time. This is partly due to the day-to-day lifestyles that are becoming increasingly sedentary. In addition, it can be the result of many of us ignoring the signs of deteriorating physical health until they manifest as persistent pain or discomfort.

Beyond diet and general exercise, a specific form of physical activity, known as therapeutic exercise, can prove greatly beneficial. Your physical therapist may recommend this if you’re recovering from an injury or managing a chronic condition.

Therapeutic exercises are a specialized series of movements that are specifically designed to heal injuries, improve functionality, and enhance your overall physical fitness.

Here’s all you need to know about the definition, different types, and the myriad benefits of therapeutic exercises for long-term health.

What Is a Therapeutic Exercise?

A therapeutic exercise is a prescribed physical activity that is tailored to your specific needs and abilities. Its primary goal is to improve or restore bodily function, alleviate pain, and ensure long-term health and well-being (12). 

Unlike general exercises such as jogging or weightlifting, therapeutic exercises are highly targeted movements that are designed for a particular purpose.

The principles of therapeutic exercise are:

  • Precision: Exercises are precisely prescribed to remediate impairments and restore skeletal and muscular function.
  • Personalization: Each exercise is tailored according to your unique needs, health status, and environment.
  • Progression: As you improve in functionality, the exercise regimen progresses accordingly.

Your physical therapist will work closely with you to develop a customized therapeutic exercise program to address your specific needs. This may include a combination of different types of exercises, depending on your condition and goals.

therapeutic exercises  

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The techniques of exercise therapy aren’t limited to just one area of physical health – they encompass multiple aspects, including (13):

  • Aerobic and endurance conditioning: Exercises that target large muscle groups to promote cardiovascular health
  • Resistance training: Graded exercises that use resistance to build and restore muscle tissue
  • Flexibility training: Slow and steady movements to improve joint and muscle range of motion
  • Balance and coordination training: Activities designed to enhance stability and postural control and prevent injuries

When prescribing therapeutic exercises, your physical therapist will consider several factors. These include frequency, intensity, time, and type of exercise.

  • Frequency: Typically recommended at least 3-5 days per week
  • Intensity: Can be low, moderate, or vigorous depending on your condition and goals
  • Time: Endurance exercises generally last 20-60 minutes per session, although this can vary depending on the baseline and goals of the individual.
  • Type: Exercises may focus on endurance, strength, flexibility, stability, balance/coordination, or a combination of these

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What Are the Goals of Therapeutic Exercise?

The main goal of therapeutic exercise is to improve your overall physical function and well-being. This goal can be broken down into several objectives, all of which are focused on promoting optimal health and preventing injuries. These objectives include:

To Correct Impairments

Impairments can occur for various reasons, such as injury or illness. For example, if you’ve suffered muscle strain, this may cause pain and limit your range of motion. 

Therapeutic exercises can help correct these impairments by promoting healing and restoring normal function (12).

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To Restore Muscular Function

Our muscles play a vital role in our physical function. When they become weakened or injured, this can impact everyday activities such as walking or lifting objects (5). 

The importance of therapeutic exercises for muscles is huge; they restore and strengthen muscular function, which enables you to perform daily tasks with greater ease.

To Improve Skeletal Function

Proper skeletal function is essential for maintaining mobility, balance, coordination, and stability. For example, if you’ve had a fracture, your bones may take longer to heal and regain their strength. 

Therapeutic exercises can help improve skeletal function by stimulating bone growth and strengthening the surrounding muscles (10).

To Prevent Injuries

Injuries are common in people of all ages, but certain groups may be at a higher risk, such as older adults or athletes. 

Exercise can help prevent injuries by improving balance, coordination, and muscular strength (9). This is particularly important for those who have a history of falls or are recovering from an injury.

To Promote Long-Term Health

One of the most significant benefits of therapeutic exercises is their ability to promote long-term health. 

Regular physical activity can reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. It can also improve mental health, boost energy levels, and enhance overall quality of life (6).

In our guide on how to increase shoulder mobility, we show how therapeutic exercises can improve shoulder function and prevent future injuries.

therapeutic exercises  

Types of Therapeutic Exercises

Here are some therapeutic exercise examples and what they’re good for:

Strengthening Exercises

Strengthening exercises typically involve resistance training and aim to build muscle mass and improve overall strength (11). They’re beneficial for people who are recovering from injuries or those with chronic conditions that may have weakened their muscles.

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Strengthening exercises can be performed with heavy resistance (i.e. weightlifting) for fewer repetitions, or with lighter resistance for higher repetition counts. The resistance and repetitions can be determined by your experience level, health, and goals. The goal is to gradually increase the resistance over time as your strength improves.

Strengthening exercises exist in three forms:

  • Isometric exercises: These involve contracting your muscles without moving the joints, e.g. pushing against a wall.
  • Isotonic exercises: These involve movement of the joints through a range of motion against resistance, e.g. most weight-lifting exercises
  • Isokinetic exercises: These use specialized equipment to provide resistance throughout the entire range of motion, e.g. stationary bike pedaled at a consistent cadence with adjustable resistance.

Examples of strengthening exercises include:

  • Bicep curls with dumbbells
  • Squats with resistance bands
  • Leg press machine exercises

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Flexibility Exercises

Flexibility exercises aim to improve your range of motion and prevent stiffness in your joints. They’re typically low-intensity and involve slow, steady movements that stretch the muscles and surrounding tissue.

Flexibility exercises exist in three forms (2):

  • Static stretching: Holding a stretch in one position for a certain amount of time, e.g. touching your toes and holding for 30 seconds.
  • Dynamic stretching: Moving through a range of motion while performing an exercise, e.g. lunges with arm circles.
  • PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation): Using a combination of stretching and contracting methods to improve flexibility, e.g. partner-assisted stretching with muscular “holds” or resistance.

Examples of flexibility exercises include:

  • Range of motion exercises
  • Soft tissue stretching techniques such as yoga and Pilates
  • Foam rolling exercises
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Endurance Exercises

Endurance exercises are designed to improve cardiovascular health, boost energy levels, and promote endurance. They typically involve aerobic activities that engage the body’s large muscle groups and are performed for extended periods (3).

Perceived exertion and heart rate are commonly used to measure the intensity of endurance exercises. The Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale is a popular method for determining how hard you work during exercise (8).

Examples of endurance exercises include:

  • Brisk walking or jogging
  • Swimming or water aerobics
  • Cycling or using a stationary bike

Balance and Coordination Exercises

Balance and coordination exercises are essential for maintaining stability and preventing falls (1). These exercises can involve various techniques, such as standing on one leg or performing movements that challenge your balance.

Examples of balance and coordination exercises include:

  • Single-leg stance
  • Balance board exercises
  • Tai chi or yoga

therapeutic exercises  

Incorporating Therapeutic Exercise into Your Routine

When incorporating therapeutic exercises into your routine, it’s important that you follow an exercise prescription that is customized to your specific health status and needs.

Here are some considerations to keep in mind when exercising:

  • Proper form and technique are essential for preventing injuries. If you’re unsure of how to perform an exercise correctly, you should seek guidance from a healthcare professional or certified trainer.
  • Monitor your exercise intensity using methods such as perceived exertion or heart rate. This will help ensure you’re working at an appropriate level and can prevent overexertion.
  • Progress your exercises gradually, based on your individual capabilities and movement proficiency. Don’t push yourself too hard too fast, and always listen to your body’s cues.

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The Impact of Therapeutic Exercise: Evidence-Based Recommendations

Several studies have shown the effectiveness of therapeutic exercises in improving various health outcomes. For example:

  • A study published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine found that a combination of strengthening and flexibility exercises can decrease pain and improve functionality in individuals with knee osteoarthritis (4).
  • The National Institute on Aging found that balance and coordination exercises are effective in reducing falls in older adults (5).
  • A review published in the Journal of Clinical Rehabilitation concluded that aerobic exercises can improve aerobic capacity in individuals with mild to moderate stroke and is a key aspect in stroke rehabilitation (14).

Our Somatic Therapy Exercises guide has more information on how therapeutic exercises can be used to improve physical and mental well-being.

Safety Precautions

Therapeutic exercise should not be performed without proper guidance and supervision, particularly for individuals with pre-existing medical conditions or injuries.

You can only reap the benefits of therapeutic exercise if you do it correctly and it’s tailored to your individual needs. Always consult a healthcare professional before you start any new exercise program and make sure you follow their recommendations in order to see optimal results.

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therapeutic exercises  


  • What are therapeutic activities?

Therapeutic activities are a broader category of exercises that encompass physical activities and cognitive, sensory, and social ones.

Often confused for therapeutic exercise that focuses more on physical rehabilitation and fitness, therapeutic activity addresses a wider range of physical, cognitive, and psychosocial needs.

It can include tasks that are designed to enhance daily living skills, cognitive activities to improve memory and problem-solving, creative pursuits such as art or music therapy, and even animal-assisted therapy.

  • What is the most common physical therapy exercise?

This is a trick question! The most common exercise prescribed in physical therapy is highly individualized based on the impairments, abilities, and goals of a person. However, the vast majority of physical therapy programs will include a mix of strengthening/stability and mobility/flexibility. Others may focus on balance, coordination, relaxation/breathing techniques, or activity tolerance/endurance.

Physical therapists may also use modalities such as heat, cold, ultrasound, or electrical stimulation in combination with the methods described above to enhance their effects on the body.

  • Is passive range of motion (PROM) a therapeutic exercise?

No, passive range of motion (PROM) exercises are not considered to be therapeutic exercises. PROM involves the therapist moving a patient’s body part for them, whereas therapeutic exercises involve the patient actively participating and performing the movements themselves.

While PROM can help maintain and improve joint and muscle mobility in individuals who are in the early stages of injury or surgical rehabilitation and/or unable to move on their own, it doesn’t provide the same benefits as therapeutic exercises in the long term for engaging the muscles and promoting functional independence.

  • Is stretching a therapeutic Exercise?

If it’s done with proper technique and under the guidance of a healthcare professional, stretching can be considered a therapeutic exercise. It can help improve flexibility and range of motion, reduce pain and tension in muscles, and improve overall physical function (2).

  • What are the best physical therapy exercises?

The best physical therapy exercises are those that are tailored to an individual’s specific needs and abilities. Working with a physical therapist will allow you to receive a personalized exercise program that is designed to help you achieve your goals safely and effectively.

Some of the most commonly prescribed physical therapy exercises include:

  • Range of motion exercises
  • Strengthening exercises
  • Stretching exercises
  • Balance and coordination activities
  • Functional movement training

In addition, your physical therapist may incorporate other types of exercises or modalities based on your unique circumstances.

Check out our Aquatic Therapy Exercises guide for more information on another form of therapeutic exercise. 

The Bottom Line

Therapeutic exercise is an excellent tool for healing injuries, improving physical function, promoting long-term health, and preventing chronic diseases. 

With a customized exercise prescription and proper monitoring of intensity and progression, you can reap the many benefits of incorporating therapeutic exercises into your routine.


This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!


  1. Balance exercises – Mayo Clinic (2023,
  3. Endurance Exercise – Physiopedia (n.d.,
  4. Exercise Therapy for Knee Osteoarthritis: A Systematic Review and Network Meta-analysis (2023,
  5. Four Types of Exercise Can Improve Your Health and Physical Ability (2021,
  6. Health Benefits of Exercise (2018,
  7. Healthy Muscles Matter (2023,
  8. Perceived Exertion (Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale) | Physical Activity (2022,
  9. Prevent Injury & Reduce Pain with Improved Overall Fitness | Orthopaedic Institute of Ohio (2023,
  10. Regulation of bone health through physical exercise: Mechanisms and types (2022,
  11. Strength training: Get stronger, leaner, healthier (2023,
  12. Therapeutic Exercise (2023,
  13. Therapeutic Exercise – Physiopedia (n.d.,
  14. The use of aerobic exercise training in improving aerobic capacity in individuals with stroke: a meta-analysis (2011,
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