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How Your Physical Therapy Home Exercise Program Can Move the Needle Towards Your Goals

March 15, 2023
You’ll be on your way to a pain and injury free future with the unparalleled convenience and autonomy provided by your physical therapy home exercise program.
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By Susie Reiner, PhD, CSCS, EP-C

If there was one thing you could do in your day that could speed up your recovery from injury, stave off pain, and spark your motivation, you would run, not walk, to get started, right? That activity could be the home exercise program prescribed by your physical therapist. 

A home exercise program is a plan personalized to your needs and abilities based on your injury, diagnosis and various functional assessments. They are designed to improve strength, stability, and mobility around an injury and to prepare you for any challenge that comes your way, from activities of daily living to return to sport. Home exercise programs typically consist of strengthening, flexibility, and balance exercises—sometimes recommended multiple times daily—and the more you stick to your program, the better your results.

There is overwhelming evidence to support the positive impact of home exercise programs on rehabilitation outcomes and physical activity engagement, yet only 30 percent of patients actually stick with their program at home. In this article, you’ll learn how home exercise programs get you closer to your goals.

Benefits of a Physical Therapy Home Exercise Program

Home Exercise Programs Speed Up and Improve Your Recovery

Research shows that when patients participated in a home exercise program, they saw long-term improvements in their injury and health outcomes, including those experiencing low-back pain, knee pain, osteoarthritis, balance deficits, and shoulder pain, among others. Home exercise programs for physical therapy work, but consistency is vital. 

In a study with recreational athletes after ACL reconstruction, close to or full compliance with a rehabilitation program predicted knee function, quality of life, ability to perform activities of daily living, and better odds for returning to sport after a one-year follow-up. Another study found that patients after ACL reconstruction who performed their physical therapy exercise program three to five times per week significantly improved knee function, proprioception, and limb stability compared to those who completed their exercise two to three times per week over a year. And additional research shows noncompliance, or not performing any physical therapy exercises, was associated with suboptimal outcomes in knee function, patient satisfaction, and a delayed return to sport. 

By providing a structured and customized plan for rehabilitation, physical therapists focus on your areas of weakness or pain, aiming for targeted improvements in your physical function and overall health outcomes. Sticking with your program can improve your physical capabilities, reduce your pain levels, and enhance your overall quality of life. 

Home Exercise Programs are Convenient

It’s hard to fit daily exercise time into a busy lifestyle. Lack of time, either perceived or actual, is a consistent barrier to engaging in regular physical activity for adults aged 18 to 64. Whether you’re motivated in the morning, you like a movement break at lunch, or you prefer to squeeze in your exercises while you watch TV at night, the flexibility provided by home exercise programs allows you to fit in a session when you want. The added control puts you in the driver’s seat of your rehabilitation, which pays off in motivation.

Home Exercise Programs Build Autonomy, Motivation, and Self-Efficacy

The flexibility and convenience of completing a home exercise program promotes autonomous decision-making. When you call the shots based on your needs and preferences alongside the support and education from your physical therapist, you’ll see a significant boost in self-efficacy and motivation to continue exercising, which increases engagement in your home exercise program. 

Self-efficacy, or the belief that you can control your behavior or accomplish a task, is a strong motivating factor in adherence to home exercise programs. One way to increase self-efficacy is to take things slow in the process. Making small incremental changes to the difficulty of exercises over time means you feel competent at each rehabilitation stage and are ready to take on a new challenge. The more your home exercise program is part of your daily routine, the more likely you’ll continue engaging in the activity. Research points to consistency, or building a habit of physical activity as crucial for improving long-term adherence. 

The literature also suggests that using digital technology, like Limber , aligned with your rehabilitation program can increase your likelihood of sticking with your program. Digital tools track progress, provide educational information and feedback, and allow you to communicate easily with your healthcare providers. These features can empower you to self-manage your rehabilitation which can enhance motivation. Customization, individualized support, and technology contribute to your commitment to rehabilitation and continued progress toward your health goals.

The bottom line: Physical therapy home exercise programs play a critical role in physical and mental health throughout your course of care. Following an individualized physical therapy home exercise program—and sticking with it—is a safe and effective strategy to help you return to the activities you enjoy with improved motivation, fitness, and well-being.