On your first day of physical therapy, your physical therapist will likely give you a routine of a few exercises to do at home. Now, if you’re anything like me you may think, “UGH! Why do I have to bother doing MORE exercises at home?” Coming into the physical therapy clinic is just part of your road to recovery; a home exercise program (HEP) is one of the most important aspects of physical therapy. The role of a physical therapist is to work with you to help you reach your goals. This is done through hands-on treatment, targeted exercise several days a week in physical therapy, and a shortened daily exercise program. This is important because making visible change in muscle strength and flexibility takes a long time. In fact, you will notice the biggest change in your strength after 12 weeks!
Performing daily exercise helps to solidify the changes that are being implemented in the clinic. For example, when we prescribe exercises to work on glute strength, my goals go beyond a strength test. We want your glute strength to improve to change your walking mechanics. To make this type of change, the glutes have to improve their strength and ability to fire when you are standing and walking. A typical exercise program to address this would include clamshells, single leg balance, and monster walks. Alone, each of these exercises may seem pointless. Together, this program is designed to improve one’s ability to walk without dropping their hip. This will decrease force through the hip and knee, leading to less pain and improved function! If this home exercise program is not followed, it will take much longer to make lasting changes in an individual’s gait.
In addition, a home exercise program is designed to help you after you are discharged from physical therapy. Home exercise compliance can also help prevent recurrent injuries or flare-ups later on. I frequently tell my patients that if they start to experience a similar pain, they can start by reinitiating their home exercise program. If the pain subsides, great – you’ve saved yourself visits to the doctor! If not, it is time to reach out to your physical therapist for an injury screen and a possible referral to a physician.
A home exercise program is not designed to be a tedious piece of homework. Instead, it is a tool to help you reach your goals of decreased pain and improved function. If you have pains from an injury, or even chronic pain, a customized home exercise program can dramatically improve your quality of life.
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