Ok, you have had your first physical therapy visit and now the therapist has sent you with homework in the form of home exercises. Yes, that’s right the therapist has given you homework and here are 3 reasons why it is important to do your home exercise program.
1. The time spent in therapy is very short relative to the rest of your week out of therapy.
Generally, physical therapy sessions are recommended 2-3 times per week and last about an hour long. While in the clinic the therapist works towards improving your mobility and muscle strength by retraining your body to move to the best of its ability. In order to maximize and retain the gains made in therapy the therapist will require you to complete a home exercise program that will improve muscle memory, keep the body limber, and continue to strengthen in between visits.
At most you might work with the therapist 3 hours a week, which accounts for approximately 1.8% of your week. It is not a realistic expectation that your condition will be greatly improved by only devoting 1.8% of your weekly schedule to the healing process. Not performing your home exercise program would be like dieting for only one day a week. Obviously, you will not see weight loss results by only adhering to a diet one day a week. Similarly it is an unfair expectation to see drastic improvement in your pain or injury without putting in the effort outside of your clinic visits.
Bottom Line: We can’t help if you are not willing to help yourself.
2. You are never too busy! There is always a way to make time.
Learning to do your home exercise program will require some effort on your part. It is usually not an issue of time, but more an issue of habit.
Think of all the many ways our day is wasted by waiting on certain things. For instance watching commercials! This is a perfectly primed opportunity to do your stretches. These days there is usually more commercial than there is show.
Obviously this next example won’t work for everyone, but waiting at a red light. If you are suffering from neck pain and you are given neck stretches. The long red light that never seems to change is a good time to do a few stretches.
We understand you are busy, this is why your therapist will try to limit your home exercise program to the 2-5 exercises they deem are most important. The more exercises that you are given the less likely you are to do them. It’s a fact!
A study in the journal of American Physical Therapy Association goes more in depth about exercise adherence and possible barriers that would keep you from performing home exercises. Click to learn more.
3. Each exercise has a purpose.
The therapist does not want to waste your time and genuinely wants to see you get better. Each exercise has been chosen for a purpose.
There are two main types of exercises; those that address flexibility and those that work on strengthening.
Exercises for Flexibility
During your initial exam the therapist took you through a series of movements and tests to determine if there was any specific joint and/or muscle restriction. When a joint is stiff or a muscle is tight, it can cause pain. Improving the overall flexibility is an important part of your recovery process. Exercises geared towards improving flexibility are usually ones that you have to perform more often.
This is especially true when it comes to back pain. One common exercise given for back pain is a standing back bend. Why? Well your back can bend, extend, rotate and laterally bend.
A majority of the day is spent in some sort of bent forward position or more formally called flexion of the spine. You wake up in the morning and you get dressed and bend over to put your shoes on. Next, you prepare your breakfast hunched over the stove and rinse your dishes in the sink. You go to the bathroom and lean over the counter to brush your teeth. You hop in the car and commute 15-30 minutes to work. Yes your car may have lumbar support built in, but this is not always the case and how well does that support really help to maintain a good upright posture. You arrive at work and sit at a desk for 6 to 8 hours. You have tried to set up your workstation and sit with good posture but it is tough and we all end up slouching or leaning in towards the computer with that forward head posture. Most of our time is spent in some degree of spine flexion.
A standing back extension is just the opposite. It gives your back a break from all that forward bending. In someone with back pain, this is important because the bones, muscles, and discs of the spine being overstretched in one direction can cause a lot of pain. By doing standing back extensions at least 3 times per day, you can increase your spine’s flexibility and reduce pain.
Exercises for strengthening
Areas of weakness associated with pain are another exam finding that your therapist may discover on your first visit. Strengthening exercises are used to improve something called motor timing. This means your muscles are contracting when they should and in the right direction.
For example, a person who presents with shoulder pain is likely to be given strengthening exercises for the rotator cuff muscles. These are smaller, but very important muscles because they help with the stability of the shoulder. If they are weak and inefficient it can cause shoulder impingement, which can lead to tissue injury.
True muscle growth at the physiological level takes 6-8 weeks for actual new muscle tissue to form, improvements in strength however can occur in 1-2 weeks. This initial increase in strength is due to improved motor timing and better recruitment of the muscles you already have to get the job done.
Knowing this timeline will help you have realistic expectations regarding the speed of your recovery. You need to keep up a regular strengthening routine for at least 6-8 weeks to see true improvement in muscle strength. Rehabilitative strengthening type exercises should be performed almost everyday. This helps build up the endurance of the muscle to work efficiently on a daily basis.
Let’s recap the importance of home exercises!
Physical Therapy and home exercises go hand in hand to help you to reduce your pain and get you back to doing what you love.
The therapist will utilize your clinical visits to assess your progress and teach you new exercises as necessary as you progress through the rehabilitation process.
It is important to understand that by performing your home exercise program it puts you in control.
You are able to directly affect your pain, which will ultimately allow you to become independent of your therapist in the management of your condition.
Once discharged from therapy, the continuation of your home exercise program will enable you to maintain your health and recovery indefinitely.
So, with all that in mind, don’t forget to do your homework!
Not only does completing your home exercises improve the healing process, it makes your therapist happy. Who knows, they may even give you an A+!