Immobility of the body is defined as a state of motionlessness, or near motionlessness, in which a person experiences a significant decrease in the ability to move. Immobility is common in the elderly, however it can increase the risk of falls, disease, and general low-quality of life. Physiotherapy has proved advantageous to those who wish to improve their mobility, reduce the risk of falling, and increase their quality of life. Assessments, exercises and adjustments to a person’s immediate environment are all ways to help them in the process.

The elderly are particularly susceptible to the dangers of immobility. Staying inactive during the healing process from a surgery, procedure, or illness can lead to further health problems, such as immobility syndrome.

Immobility syndrome weakens and shrinks muscles, making it more difficult to regain mobility. According to research, approximately 70 percent of older adults experience a decline in function after a hospital stay.

Don’t let immobility take hold – get up and get moving as soon as you can to avoid any further health complications! 

At Easy Exercising we have helped patients recover from immobility by physical therapy and various exercise programs. Learn more about our exercise programs for immobility by clicking here.

We’ve developed a complete guide to the consequences of immobility and how to increase it.

What causes immobility in the elderly?

Immobility can have many causes, including injuries, medical conditions, and mental health. Even short or long hospital stays can lead to immobility in patients.  

The common reasons for immobility can be split into two categories: intrapersonal and interpersonal causes. 

Intrapersonal factors are psychological, such as depression or fear of injury. Physical changes, like pain associated with cardiovascular or musculoskeletal disorders can also lead to immobility. Interpersonal factors, however, have to do with the interactions older adults have with caregivers. Additionally, environmental causes like a cluttered living space can make it difficult to move around.

Some medications prescribed for other conditions can lead to depression and anxiety, making patients not want to get out of bed. Common causes of immobility in the elderly patients include Parkinson’s disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, broken or fractured bones, depression and anxiety, pain from arthritis and osteoporosis, muscle and joint pain, and malnutrition.

A physician will usually carry out careful history-taking and a thorough physical examination as part of the assessment process to ensure all causes are accounted for.

causes of immobility in the elderly

The adverse effects of immobility

Immobility due to prolonged illness or a hospital stay can result in malfunctioning of many organs of the body like the circulatory system, respiratory system or even musculoskeletal system among patients. Due to prolonged immobility among older patients they are even unable to perform their daily activities. The more time a person spends being inactive, the more their muscle mass and strength will decrease, making it harder for them to stand up. This increases their chances of fall and osteoporosis. 

Prolonged immobility is associated with increased fatigue, low self-esteem and loss of confidence. It can increase the risk of falls and the development of pressure ulcers. More importantly, immobility can actually lead to further immobility of other areas of the body if left untreated. Mobility is crucial for maintaining health and the body’s ability to heal and repair. 

Relationship between immobility and falls

Falls are more common in the elderly due to a number of factors, such as poor eyesight, hearing, illnesses and physical conditions. However, immobility plays a big part in this. Lacking proper mobility means your body is put under more stress and strain when moving and this can often result in falls. When it’s difficult to move in general, there’s an increased risk of unexpected falls at any time. 

What are the major complications of prolonged immobility?

    Immobility leads to skin breakdown

    Inactivity, immobilisation, and both shear and friction forces can all play a role in damaging the skin. This is especially true for patients who are overweight or obese, those with spinal cord injuries or paralysis, and those who are confined to beds or wheelchairs.

    Immobility leads to depressed respiratory function

    Some of the adverse effects that immobility has on the respiratory system include the pooling of respiratory secretions, which can lead to atelectasis and hypostatic pneumonia. Additionally, immobility can make it harder for the client to expectorate secretions, which can lead to respiratory tract infections. Furthermore, immobility can cause shallow and ineffective respirations, as well as decreased respiratory movement and a decrease in the client’s vital capacity.

    Immobility leads to constipation

    Difficult or painful bowel movements, constipation, and impaction can occur when a person is immobile and doesn’t get enough exercise, both of which are needed for normal bowel function. These problems can get worse when the person isn’t getting enough fluids.

    Immobility leads to renal dysfunction

    When you do not move your body on a regular basis, your urinary system can be adversely affected with urinary retention, urinary stasis, renal calculi, and urinary incontinence and urinary tract infections. These are all problems related to the urinary system, which can result in serious problems if they are not treated in a timely and professional way.

    Immobility leads to physical deconditioning

    Deconditioning, or the changes that happen to the body during a period of inactivity, can have negative effects on your heart, lungs, and muscles. You may feel fatigued and weak, and your ability to be active may decrease. Deconditioning can occur after only a few days of inactivity, and the longer you’re inactive, the more severe the deconditioning will be. It may take some time to return to your previous level of functioning.

    Immobility leads to electrolyte imbalances

    When people are immobile or bedridden, their sodium levels usually decrease due to reduced levels of antidiuretic hormone (ADH). However, once aldosterone is released and the body starts to retain more salt, sodium levels will eventually stabilise. Unfortunately, this increased aldosterone secretion also causes potassium losses in the urine, which can lead to hypokalemia (low potassium levels in the blood). Additionally, when bones start to demineralize, the calcium concentrations in the blood will increase. This can happen within days of being immobile or bedridden.

    Immobility contributes to psychological dysfunction

    Here are some of the psychological hazards of being immobile. First, there is apathy. A person may stop caring about the things around them and becoming resentful. Isolation is another hazard. A person may not socialise as much and instead of having a conversation with friends or family, they’ll be spending a lot of time by themselves. Frustration and a lowered mood are common hazards. Not only is it frustrating to be unable to do the things you used to be able to do, but it can be a blow to your mood as well! Depression is yet another psychological hazard of being immobile. This is because a person may lose hope and think “what’s the point?”

    Immobility leads to DVT

    A deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that forms in a vein that’s located deep inside your body. A DVT can occur in any vein in your body but is most common in the veins in your legs. The most common cause of a DVT is immobility, which is when you’re not moving around for long periods of time. A complication of a DVT can occur when part of the blood clot breaks off and travels to your lung.

    Immobility leads to impaired glucose metabolism

    A sedentary lifestyle has been linked to insulin resistance, impaired glucose tolerance and type 2 diabetes. The body’s ability to regulate blood glucose is adversely affected by long periods of bed rest, with a progressive development of glucose intolerance.

    How to increase mobility

    Despite mobility decreasing with age, there are a number of ways to maintain or restore mobility, even when living with health conditions. Regular, gentle exercise has been proven to increase balance, ease arthritis symptoms and enhance coordination. Walking, swimming, and even ballroom dancing have proven effective in this regard. A healthy diet and a healthy weight also help to improve mobility, as obesity is one of the most overlooked causes of immobility.

    how to increase mobility

    How can immobility be prevented?


    There’s a lot you can do throughout your life to ensure immobility, and therefore risk of falls, is prevented. Increasing exercise and activity levels, decreasing the use of certain psychotropic medications and improvement of the general environment have all shown effectiveness in preventing immobility and falling complications. It’s always a good idea to take care of physical, mental and emotional well-being to keep a balanced life and increase well-being, and this is much the same when it comes to mobility. 

    There’s no doubt that staying active is the best way to prevent mobility-related health problems. However, preventing immobility can be a challenge, especially for older adults who may be experiencing pain. The less mobile a person is, the more likely they are to suffer from additional health concerns. Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to help your loved one stay mobile and healthy.

    Here are some tips:

    -Encourage your loved one to take short walks throughout the day.

    -Make sure their home is safe and easy to move around in.

    -Help them stay socially active by connecting them with friends and family members.

    -Encourage them to participate in activities that they enjoy.

    Being immobile is dangerous. It puts your well-being at risk in a way that can negatively affect your overall health, especially because lack of mobility hinders the body’s ability to heal and repair itself. Whenever someone is confined to bed rest following an accident or any other type of injury that requires disabling procedures, every single bodily system will be adversely affected – this includes the musculoskeletal as well as the neurological systems! 

    Physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists are trained to help patients improve their strength, motor function and balance – all areas of concern for immobile individuals who are at risk of falling. Easy Exercising helps elders regain mobility through specific exercises that are tailor made according to their needs. To book an appointment with our team, contact us anytime!

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    "I had a very good hour doing Easy Exercising which isn’t hard on your joints. I think it’s good for any over fifties to try as they will find it so good for their different problems or just to have some general exercise. There is a qualified person supervising you on each machine & its a very sociable environment." - Margaret