Physical therapy homework could be the key to your recovery

Date Published: 
September 11, 2015

Whether you’ve had surgery, an accident or a sports injury, there are many health issues that require physical therapy to let you return to your full capabilities and maintain your quality of life. The problem is some people think physical therapy is just a big inconvenience.

There’s no question it takes some juggling and adjusting your schedule. There are visits two or three days a week, and then there are your homework assignments. Yes, homework.

The truth is there are many reasons why people often forget about their home physical-therapy assignments or just don’t feel like doing it. Research tells us the scope of the problem.

Earlier this year, research in an international journal of physiotherapy, as reported in an article in U.S. News & World Report, revealed very disturbing information. As few as 35 percent of the folks given home physical therapy exercises as part of their recovery plan actually do it. This should be your wakeup call, because you, and the friends and family you care about, are risking far more than you might realize when you don’t stick to your physical therapy program.

When injuries are involved, you can get to feeling down. Let’s face it. It can be depressing. You are hurting; you might be dealing with mobility issues and injuries that impact your quality of life. When you’re hurting, it’s easy to want to find any excuse to avoid moving and tell yourself it’s OK to skip those physical therapy exercises.

There are other reasons, too. All too many people think their physical therapist won’t notice and it won’t matter. But, it does matter. These aren’t just simple exercises. These are carefully constructed programs that often can require you to change how you’re used to doing something, and that can be very hard; it’s also critically important.

When you are referred to a physical therapist, it’s because your medical professional is helping you take a significant step toward completing your recovery. Your physical therapist will look at the information your doctor has provided and talk to you to understand your needs and concerns.

With all of that critical information in hand about your personal health profile, your physical therapist builds a customized program to help you achieve all you can to have a quality lifestyle. You’ve heard me tell you this so many times in my articles here in the Coastal Point, and there’s a reason for my reinforcing it.

There’s is no one-size-fits-all approach to a recovery, and your medical professional and physical therapist are your partners. They are focused on getting the best results for you, but you have to take that partnership seriously. You have to be an active, engaged participant or you can wind up losing an awful lot.

The treatments that you receive when you visit your physical therapist every week are only a part of the recovery program. To achieve full recovery, you need to build on the progress you achieve during your weekly visits, which very often requires you following a specific plan for exercises at home.

Progress is the key word here. It takes focus, effort and personal commitment, because your physical therapist knows that you can’t go days without a proper therapy exercise program or you risk losing some of the progress you have made during those office sessions. Making you stronger and reaching your goals is the underlying reason why you have a home program.

The bottom line is pretty simple: You put at risk your full recovery when you don’t stick to your home program as a critical part of your recovery plan.

But let’s be real. I understand that without someone like me there to watch them every minute, it can be discouraging and tough to maintain, which is why you need some strategies to help you stick with it.

Physical therapists are not mind-readers, so you have to talk to us. Don’t kid yourself into thinking we can’t tell that you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do, because there are so many giveaways that we spot very quickly.

The sad truth is you are cheating yourself. We’re not there to play judge and jury — we’re there to help. When you level with us, we can help you with strategies to stick with it, and we can work on finding answers with you.

A big part of the equation is you; you need to be your own counselor. You know what’s good for you even when it’s hard, so you have to keep pushing yourself. Ask yourself some questions every time you want to skip your exercise program: Do I want to lose my mobility? Do I want to be like this for the rest of my life? Am I going to be happy if this is the most I am going to be able to do every day? Do I want to get worse and feel like I feel right now for the rest of my life?

I doubt very seriously you are going to answer yes to those questions, and it should be a good motivator to remind yourself about what you risk when you choose to skip.

Planning will help, too. Look at your schedule and figure out how you’re going to fit your physical-therapy home exercise program into your daily routine. If you’re retired, it can be a little easier.

If you work and have an on-the-go family, be honest with yourself about whether it will work to get up earlier or go to bed later, or when it makes sense to do your homework based on what you typically experience in your day-to-day life. Let your family know that you’re going to be changing the routine a bit, so that you can stick to your physical therapy program and get better. Getting those you live with on board with the plan will make things easier.

Do you have a spouse, a partner, a family member or a good friend who is part of your support system? Talk to them and tell them the truth. Many times, having someone help you get motivated and stick with it can make all the difference. Those closest to us can often get away with teasing and pushing in ways we would never accept from someone who isn’t part of our personal inner circle.

I know the thoughts here aren’t a new concept for some of you but keep coming at this in difference directions because, like so many of my colleagues, I care about the people who trust me with their care. I see the difference it can make and I take my job very seriously because your health and the quality of your life is not something I take lightly. Help me, help you. We make a great team.

Bob Cairo is a licensed physical therapist at Tidewater Physical Therapy. He can be reached by calling (302) 537-7260.