If an illness, injury, chronic pain or other lingering issue has resulted in a visit to a physical therapist, the course of treatment likely included a home exercise program.
This portion of the overall treatment plan consists of a series of exercises and activities to perform at home and is designed to address a patient's specific situation. The difference between long-term improvement and persistent trouble just might be how well you follow through with the individual program provided for you.
Visits to the physical therapist vary depending on the severity of the illness or injury and the intensity of therapy needed. An initial evaluation by the physical therapist will determine the frequency that is appropriate for each individual patient.
Your home exercise program will reinforce what is learned during the therapy appointments as well as continue healing away from the clinical setting. When insurance coverage or costly co-pays are a concern, most therapists will make every effort to work with the patient to identify a schedule that is both effective and cost efficient.
Taking the initiative to be consistent with a prescribed home exercise program should help with the following:
Relaxing or stretching muscles that are tight or spastic. Some illnesses can make muscles contract, or shorten, making freedom of movement difficult and sometimes uncomfortable. A physical therapist can begin the process of muscle relaxation, but to gain maximum movement that home exercise program is key. Most of the improvements that are made at the clinic can be maintained or even improved upon with frequent use of home stretches to avoid loss of motion.
Strengthening muscle groups that are weak. Longer-term illnesses can often leave the patient lacking energy and feeling weak. Physical therapy can focus on specific sets or groups of muscles to regain strength. Better strength can lead to independence with activities of daily living.
Reinforce natural movement patterns. An unsteady walking pattern and problems with balance can lead to falls and further injury. Physical therapy, followed by a home exercise program can assist with gait problems, reducing the risk of fall and other complications.
Achieve mutually agreed upon goals. Frequently a patient will begin physical therapy with specific goals. Communicating those goals, working with the therapist and following through at home can all contribute to being successful in reaching those goals.
Be an integral part of the process. Finally, any treatment is more powerful when the patient believes that progress is being made and can see results. By faithfully adhering to a home exercise program, patients are part of the healing process. The continued exercise will help to maintain the strength and range of motion gained in therapy as well as helping to prevent the recurrence of pathology.
Although physical therapy (and other therapies, as well) can be provided in the home setting, there are several advantages to having treatment in an outpatient, or clinic setting.
Some things to consider include:
Equipment. In the clinic setting a therapist has specialized equipment to adapt and more fully meet a patients needs. This may help in managing pain, regaining motion or adding strength quicker to get the patient healthy as quickly as possible.
Progression. In the treatment of many injuries the sequence in which a patient performs exercises is important on the road to recovery. Performing stretching or strengthening exercises too early in a rehabilitation program can lead to increased pain levels and local swelling. Having the experience of a trained physical therapist will help the patient to work hard without fear of "over doing it."
Daily activities. By leaving home and traveling to the clinic setting, many activities, including grooming, dressing, driving, walking, etc. are practiced and considered integral in the recovery process.
Socialization. Reduced abilities to participate in pre-injury or illness activities may lead to a person feeling isolated. Outpatient physical therapy allows a patient to see others receiving therapy and achieving goals.
Experience. Although the patient may not have been through their particular injury in the past, your therapist has most likely seen it dozens of times.
The benefit of this experience is that your PT will know many tips to streamline the recovery process.
What store has the equipment you need? What is the easiest way to get down the cellar steps?
Your physical therapist can tell you what has worked best for their past patients and allow you to avoid learning these lessons the hard way!
The physical therapy setting is one in which the patient has control of their own success.
Once you have met with a PT and been prescribed a home program, you can begin to take the first steps along the road to recovery.
Long after you are better, your home program can continue to be effective in keeping nagging injuries at bay.
In the performance of a well-written home exercise program, the patient is given both the ability to restore function and to prevent further injury. The goal of your home exercise program is simple.
Your physical therapist hopes to teach you how to help yourself get healthy and stay healthy.
McLaughlin is the site coordinator for the Geisinger HealthSouth Rehabilitation Center inside the Montoursville Geisinger Medical Group, 780 Broad St., Montoursville.