Why It’s Important To Do Your Physical Therapy Homework

Anyone who’s ever been to Physical Therapy knows that there are prescribed exercises to be done at home. It is outside of a physical therapist’s scope of practice to prescribe medication, but they can recommend therapeutic exercise. It should be taken as seriously as taking prescribed medication.

One of the major components of success in physical therapy is the home exercise program, or HEP. Since most physical therapy patients can only make it in for a couple of relatively short treatment sessions per week, HEP could be about fifty percent of the reason you will achieve better healing after injury. The short time you send in the therapist’s gym is certainly not enough time to make the drastic change you’re looking for or to fix problems that may have been years in the making. On top of that, you may find that any progress made in your weekly sessions is lost over the course of several days without exercising. A home exercise plan helps maintain the work that you do at your physical therapy sessions, while also making you stronger as you work towards a solution. Skipping these home exercises will set back your recovery.

Your home exercise program will be based on the physical therapist’s findings from your initial visit, and will likely change and develop over the course of your treatment.  It will most likely be prescribed on the first day and is tailored to your specific needs. Your HEP will be geared towards your goals and the treatments that make you move and feel better.

Home programs can differ greatly. Depending on your condition, your physical therapist may have you working on stretching exercises, strengthening exercises, posture correcting exercises, balance or proprioceptive exercises, or even something as simple as using ice packs. For example, if radiating symptoms from your neck decreased, or the mobility of your stiff shoulder improved after the treatment, your therapist will send you home with an activity to reinforce that movement on day one. Your therapist will teach you the exercises and will provide instructions on a take-home piece of paper that may include pictures. Most importantly, it should include frequency, duration, and the number of sets and reps so you know what is expected of you daily.

Pain can sometimes make you want to curl up and avoid movement. It can be an effective excuse to not do your homework. Just remind yourself that each time you follow through with your program, you work towards progress. If you are seriously lacking motivation, your physical therapist can help you find strategies. A lot of exercises can be incorporated into your daily routine.  Are there exercises you can do while sitting on the train on the way to work? Are there rehabilitation exercises you can do while in the shower or when brushing your teeth? How about neck or posture exercises that you can do while at the office or while sitting on the couch in the evening? Staying motivated, consistent and compliant to your HEP can be difficult, but it likely will speed your pain relief or return to function. Be realistic with your rehabilitation and your time. In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with being honest about the situation so that your practitioner can consider a compromise and give you a more focused home exercise program that you won’t struggle to complete.

As you improve and physical therapy treatment progresses, the HEP should too. If you are still completing the same exercises four weeks after therapy, your HEP needs to be updated to reflect your progress. Don’t hesitate to ask your therapist if your HEP is still appropriate and what you should continue to do, modify, stop, or add to your program.

Our goal is to help you become independent in the management of your condition. To do this, your therapist will discharge you with a HEP that will help you maintain the current therapeutic benefit from physical therapy in order to prevent recurrence of your injury. The discharge HEP will provide you with tools to manage your condition in the event of symptom exacerbation. It is important to understand that your symptoms may return, particularly in the case of low-back pain. It is part of a physical therapist’s job to give you the tools to maintain a state of wellness for prevention and management of your condition.


By Cecilia Manubay, PT

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