For those of you who are not familiar, the term “home exercise program” refers to a collection of stretches, strengthening, and endurance exercises patients undergoing physical therapy are given to complete at home. You can think of it like your physical therapy “homework”. Just as students in school aren’t always the biggest fans of their homework assignments, patients in physical therapy sometimes struggle to stay on track with their home exercise program. Here’s the thing though – home exercise programs are crucial for recovery and long-term improvement.
There are several common barriers to patient success with respect to home exercise programs. Some of these include lack of time for the program and confusion with the exercise prescription or how to do the exercises. Physical therapy, when delivered well, is highly individualized. Each patient’s treatment plan is tailored to meet their unique needs. Likewise, if any problems or concerns arise, the solutions ought to be unique to the patient as well. So while there may not be a one-size-fits-all solution to these barriers, keep reading for some general tips that may help if you find yourself struggling with your physical therapy homework.
1. Ask questions
Ask lots of questions. Whether it’s how to perform the exercise, when to do it, or how many times to do it, if something is unclear don’t be afraid to speak up. Physical therapists love talking about this stuff – it’s why we do what we do! And if taking a little extra time to further explain something means their patients do their programs, everybody wins.
2. Stick with it
When starting a new program, some of the exercises might feel unnatural – that’s ok! With time and focused practice, your form will improve and the exercises that felt strange at first will become second nature. Some of the exercises might cause muscle soreness – that’s ok too! Feeling a little bit sore 24-48 hours after exercise is totally normal. This phenomenon is called delayed onset muscle soreness (or DOMS for short), and it will diminish as time goes on. Important note: while some soreness is ok, significant pain is not. If your exercises are causing high levels of pain that isn’t relieved after 24 hours or so, consult with your therapist.
3. Get creative
One of the biggest barriers to consistency with a home exercise program is time. One of the best ways to work around this barrier is to get creative – do your stretches during commercial breaks, practice your balance while brushing your teeth, set an alarm reminding you to check your posture while you’re at work. Instead of trying to carve time out of your day to fit in your exercises, fit your exercises into the daily routine you already have.
4. Be a team
It’s your physical therapist’s job to guide you on your path to recovery. However, taking ownership of your physical therapy journey is important too. For the best results, get involved in your treatment plan. By working together as a collaborative team, you and your physical therapist will get what you both want – for you to feel better and get back to doing the things you love.