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by Joon Nah   BScPT
Registered Physiotherapist
updated Mar 9, 2022


It’s no secret that physiotherapy is the “go-to” method for treating most injuries or physical impairments. Back and neck pain, sprains and strains, deconditioning and imbalance, sports injuries and aging … they can all quickly improve when you have a great physiotherapist on your team.

Truly effective physiotherapy almost always involves a home program. These are the exercises that you perform in-between your physical therapy appointments to get you stronger, to increase your range of movement, to reduce your pain, and improve your mobility. To get you back to your usual self.

So, if we all know how important these exercises are, then why does almost every patient experience the struggle of keeping up with them as prescribed? To help provide answers, we’ve compiled the top tips from our team at Cornerstone Physiotherapy on how to stay on top of your physical therapy home exercise program.

 

1) Understand Why You’re Doing Them

This first tip is the most important one…understand what the exercises are doing and why it helps. If you’re not sure, ask your physiotherapist. Don’t be shy, ….. we love it when patients show more interest in the root causes of their condition.

Understanding why also helps you appreciate the original reasons you sought out physiotherapy and why you invested this time and energy into it in the first place.

 

2) Be Realistic

Be honest with how much time and energy you can give towards your exercises and how they fit into your routine. Thinking you can do more than you can actually do will quickly lead to failure.

 

3) “Attach” the Exercise to Something You Always Do

Attach the exercises to something that you already do every single day (e.g. brush your teeth, eat lunch, take a shower). And create a rule where you must complete your exercises first.

You can also pair the exercises with something you’re already doing (e.g. do them while you’re watching TV, or waiting for your coffee to brew) so that the exercises do not add more time to your day.

If you’re often on your smartphone (Instagram, Facebook, TikTok) and you’re asked to do meditation / mindfulness / breathing exercises, then attach these activities together. e.g. do your exercises every time you’ve finished surfing on your smartphone.

 

4) Take Advantage of Technology

Use your smartphone to set daily calendar reminders for your exercises and make sure to enable notifications.
Set specific repeating alarms when exercises are to be done several times a day.

Computer users can install free Google Chrome extensions that can be set to your preferences.  Use these to set exercise reminders that will enable small pop up windows that displays your exercise break message. Or set it so your entire screen can black out until you complete your physiotherapy. You can also enable audible chime sounds to make sure you really get the message! Here’s a Chrome extension some of our patients like using:

https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/break-timer/hklkdbpicdmlpoiellngedpejjkmapei?hl=en

Apple watches allow you to challenge friends/family to weekly fitness competitions. Use this as a way to stay motivated and track ongoing progress!

 

5) Use a Daily Log or Calendar

Create a home exercise program checklist or calendar and every time you’ve completed an exercise, mark it off.

Some of our physical therapists share an online calendar (e.g. Google Sheets) with their patients where they can “see” when you’ve done and not done your exercises in real time!

Are you a list person? Add it to your daily lists so you’ll always know you have to check them off.

 

6) Make Physiotherapy a Part of Your Routine

Rather than vaguely acknowledging that you should be doing your exercises 2x daily, do them at the same time every day. This will result in the forming of habits that are easier to remember and repeat.

It’s often advised to do exercises first thing in the morning or right at the end of the day. Figure out when you have more time, or are less likely to miss them.

If you already exercise (gym, sports, running, biking), add your physical therapy to the beginning of the workout as a warm up or to end of your workout as a cool-down.

 

7) Use Visual Reminders

Place exercise reminders in areas where your eyes are often looking.

Stick Post-it notes on mirrors, the fridge, your coffee maker, computer etc.

Print out your exercises and place them where you can regularly see them.

Keep your exercise equipment (e.g. dumbbells, resistance bands, foam rollers) in your office or in rooms where you spend most of your time, to create those constant visual reminders throughout the day.

 

8) Rank Your Physical Therapy Exercises

Identify key exercises with your therapist that are higher priority vs the others – so if you’re short on time, you can make sure to get them in. You can also choose to do the most important exercises first (again ask your physio!), that way those will have the least chance of getting missed.

 

9) It’s Okay to Miss a Day or Do Less

Sometimes we need to miss a day. Perhaps your symptoms are flared up, or you’re too fatigued, or the mental energy just isn’t there. It’s okay. Everyone needs a break, so take one. Just resolve to get back on course afterwards with even more commitment.

“Some physiotherapy is better than none”. This principle is helpful for those patients that tend to have an “all or none” mindset, and are likely to avoid their entire exercise program if they miss even one session or one day of exercises.

 

10) Space Your Physiotherapy Exercises Apart

If some exercises need rest time between sets of repetitions, then do them “Circuit Style” to take advantage of the rest period in-between each exercise. For example, do your first set of shoulder strengthening exercises, then do your neck stretches, then back to the shoulder exercises, then back to the neck stretch. This will reduce the total time needed for your exercises.

Getting stronger and improving your endurance is often about building up volume over time. If you don’t have time to perform your exercises all at once, it’s okay to break up a 3-set exercise routine into quick 1-set mini routines performed throughout the day.

 

11) Talk With Your Physiotherapist and Be Honest

Do you get the cold sweats when your physiotherapist asks you if you’re staying on top of your exercises? Whether you say that you haven’t missed a single repetition or you just bow your head in shame, your best bet is honesty. Knowing whether you are keeping up with your exercises or not, is critical in our analysis of your progress and we use this info to make the changes to your program that help get you better.

If you find there’s a specific exercise that you just can’t seem to stay on top of, speak to your physical therapist (maybe it’s too challenging, too painful or requires a complex set-up). They can usually find a different way to get the same result.

 

12) Get Others to Help You

Use others to stay accountable.

Ask partners, kids, parents to help you remember to do your physio homework. Remember that when you feel better, everyone around you benefits!

Ask around if there’s someone else who also has a physical therapy program and pair up to keep each other motivated.

 

13) Remember Just How Important These Exercises Are

How important is it for you to get rid of your pain? To get back to your sport, your hobbies, your job? To feel stronger, increase your confidence, and be your usual self again?

Treat your physiotherapy exercise program as importantly as you would personal hygiene. You wouldn’t go a full day without brushing your teeth, would you? Better yet, consider your exercises as medicine, prescribed by a physiotherapist. Now, can you imagine taking your medication only half as much as you’re supposed to?

 

14) Reward yourself.

Only allow yourself to do something you look forward to (watching Netflix, reading your book) AFTER you’ve done your exercises.

 

15) Book regular follow ups with your physiotherapist

We all know how well we brush our teeth the few days before our dental checkups. Regular appointments with your physiotherapist not only motivates you to stay on top of your exercises (as they’ll always ask to see you do them!), but allows your physical therapist to stay on top of your recovery and make changes to your program at the right time. You’ll get better, faster.

 

Final Thoughts

Remember, staying consistent with your home physical therapy exercises is essential in maintaining the benefits of your weekly physiotherapy sessions. It’s a critical part of rehabilitation.

Not all of these tips are going to work for everybody.
Pick and choose the ones that make sense to you. And if one strategy is not working, then come back to this article and try a different tip.

If you’re a Cornerstone Physiotherapy patient, you know of the many benefits of choosing our clinics. One perk is that you always have an open line of communication with your physiotherapist regarding your exercises or any other question you may have. Simply send an email and we’d be happy to help guide you forward!

About the author

Joon Nah

Co-founder, Physiotherapist Learn More about Joon Nah

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