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Physical Therapy Exercises You Can Do at Home

Physical Therapy Exercises You Can Do at Home

If you have been referred to physical therapy after an injury or an illness, then you may have questions about what will happen. Most people visit a physical therapist because they are experiencing pain or difficulty with normal functional mobility. Your physical therapist may prescribe treatments and exercises to help you move better and feel better. One of the best ways to improve your overall mobility is with physical therapy exercises.

Social distancing, sheltering-in-place, self-isolating, however you’re helping slow the spread of COVID-19, it likely means you’re spending most of your time indoors at home. And home is where the couch, bed, and not-so-ergonomic chairs and tables live. So by now, you may be experiencing some aches and pains that come along with what has become a VERY sedentary lifestyle.

What Are Physical Therapy Exercises?

Physical therapy exercises are designed to restore maximum body function with an aim on long-term benefits. This includes recovering from an injury, preventing further damage, relieving pain, or learning to live with a chronic condition. Good for people of any age, they can help to improve blood flow, increase flexibility, develop strength, and enhance endurance.

At-home PT incorporates stretching and strength training, rather than endurance exercise. You don’t need access to gym equipment. In fact, most of these exercises don’t require any equipment at all. The ones that do require simple items you can find around the house.

Physical therapy is a treatment method typically designed for patients before or after surgery to help restore function and movement while also promoting healing and pain relief. It can help patients of all ages with medical conditions, illnesses, or injuries that limit their abilities to function normally. It also helps encourage active and healthy lifestyle changes to improve overall health and well-being. But, even if you’re not scheduled for surgery or healing from an injury, incorporating stretching and strengthening movements into your daily routine can really help relax tense muscles, reduce aches, and make you feel better overall.

Therapeutic exercise should be one of the main treatments you receive from your physical therapist. It doesn’t matter if you are in a hospital, nursing home, school, or an outpatient orthopedic clinic. Physical therapists are movement experts, and exercise should be the primary tool your PT uses to get you moving better and feeling better.

When your physical therapist prescribes exercises for you to do, they should be considered as specific movement strategies to help your body change and grow in a positive way. The exercises you do in physical therapy are designed for your specific condition and are an integral part of your rehab program.

Should exercise be the only treatment you receive in physical therapy? Not necessarily. Some physical therapists use other techniques like massage, joint mobilizations, or modalities—like ultrasound or electrical stimulation—to help their patients move better and feel better. While passive treatments may feel good, they should not be the only treatment you get in physical therapy. There should always be an active component to your rehab program which includes various types of therapeutic physical therapy exercises.

Maintaining your body’s muscle strength is important for your overall health and well-being. Strengthening exercises should be part of an overall plan that includes regular physical activity (such as walking, swimming, yoga, sports, or other activities), and regular stretching for flexibility. You can easily exercise your muscles regularly using your own body weight, resistance, or light weights.

This strengthening program, provided by physical therapists, offers three different levels, depending on your fitness, age, and desired challenge. Physical therapists are health care’s movement experts who improve quality of life through prescribed exercise, hands-on care, and patient education.

Types of Physical Therapy Exercises

There are different types of physical therapy exercises that may be prescribed for you depending on your specific condition. These exercises may include:

  • exercises to improve strength
  • exercises to improve range of motion
  • flexibility exercises
  • balance and proprioception exercises
  • functional mobility exercises
  • cardiorespiratory exercises
  • exercises for vertigo and dizziness

A physical therapy exercise program should be tailored for your specific needs. For example, if you are having difficulty walking after a total knee replacement surgery, your physical therapist may assess your quadriceps function and prescribe specific exercises to help improve the strength of this muscle group.3

Your physical therapist may use certain tools and pieces of equipment for your PT exercises. These may include:

  • foam rollers
  • resistance bands
  • therapy balls
  • free weights and dumbbells
  • treadmills, bikes, or an upper body bike
  • balance and wobble boards
  • towels and straps

The type of equipment you use depends upon the specific exercises you are doing and the goals of each exercise. Sometimes, no special equipment is necessary for your PT exercise.

Exercises are typically done in the physical therapy clinic, but they can also be done in the hospital while you are lying in bed or sitting up in a chair. Your physical therapist may visit you in the hospital and work on improving functional mobility—like moving in bed or climbing stairs—so you can safely go home. One component of this in-hospital rehab program may be to complete physical therapy exercises.

Your physical therapist may also prescribe exercises for you to do as part of a home exercise program. This program can help you improve your condition while you are not in the PT clinic, giving you control over your injury or illness. Your PT can also show you exercises that can be used to prevent future problems from occurring.

Getting Started With Your Physical Therapy Exercises

Getting started on physical therapy exercises is easy. If you have an injury or an illness that causes pain or prevents you from moving normally, visit your doctor and ask to be referred to a physical therapist. Choosing physical therapy first—before medication or surgery—is a good idea, as PT tends to be a safe and value-packed model of care for many conditions.4 Many states in the US allow you to visit a physical therapist via direct access, and no doctor’s referral is needed.

When you first meet your physical therapist, ask about different exercises that you can do to help your condition. Your PT should be a wealth of knowledge on proper exercise technique, and he or she can prescribe exercises that can help you improve your mobility and decrease your pain. Think of your physical therapist as an expert guide who can teach you the proper exercises for your specific condition. He or she can help you, but it’s up to you to take the first step and commit to performing your PT exercises.

Straight Leg Raises

Straight Leg Raises
  1. Lie on your back on the floor.
  2. Bend one knee so your foot is flat on the floor. Keep the other knee straight.
  3. Flex the straight knee and lift your leg to the level of your bent knee.
  4. Hold until you feel the stretch.
  5. Repeat 10 times on each side.

Hamstring Stretch

Hamstring Stretch
  1. Step 1 Lie on your back, raise your left leg, clasp your hands around the back of your left thigh, pull your knee close to your chest.
  2. Step 2 Keeping your knee near your chest, slowly straighten your left knee until you feel a stretch on the back of your left thigh. (It is OK if you don’t get your knee fully straight, as long as you feel a good stretch.) Hold for 30-45 seconds, repeat the stretch on the opposite side.

Standing Quad Stretch

Standing Quad Stretch

Easy Bridge Exercise for Hip Extensors

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, your feet flat on the floor, and your hands palm down at your side (Photo A).
  2. Press into the floor from your hips through your feet and lift your buttocks. Count out loud 1-2 to get to this bridge position (Photo B).
  3. Hold this position for five seconds, then while counting 1-2-3-4, return to the starting position. It should take you longer to return to your starting position than to get to your bridge position. Control is important.
  4. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.

Piriformis Stretch

Piriformis Stretch
  1. Step 1 Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Cross the right ankle over the left knee.
  2. Step 2 Clasp your hands around your left thigh, pull your left thigh/knee toward your chest. You should feel the stretch around the right buttock, hip, and back of thigh. Hold for 30-45 seconds, repeat the stretch on the opposite side.

Lateral Leg Raises

  1. Lie on your side with your legs stacked on top of each other and your arm resting under your head for support.
  2. Raise your top leg as high as you comfortably can and pause until you feel tension.
  3. Lower it back down slowly.
  4. Repeat five times on each side.

Wall Abductor Exercise

  1. Stand upright with good posture with your shoulder touching a wall, and bend your knee closest to the wall (Photo C).
  2. Push your bent knee toward or into the wall without letting your body move.
  3. You should feel the muscles of both hips work. The muscles of one hip will work to push you against the wall, and the muscles of the other work to keep you in an upright position.
  4. Hold this position for 15 seconds. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Standing Hip Flexor

Standing Hip Flexor
  1. Step 1 Stand facing a bench (or high step or sturdy chair), both feet pointing forward. Place your left foot up on the bench, with your foot planted past your knee (angle of knee bend is more than 90 degrees).
  2. Step 2 Slowly shift your weight forward toward the foot on the bench, until you feel some stretch on the front of the right hip (you may also feel some stretch in your right calf). Hold for 30-45 seconds, repeat the stretch on the opposite side.

Pigeon Stretch

  1. While sitting on the floor, bend your right leg and extend your left leg behind you.
  2. Pull your right heel in while keeping your left hip pointed downward.
  3. Rest your right hand on your thing.
  4. Alternately, you can walk your hands forward until your chest is resting on your knee.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Easy Sit-to-Stand Exercise for Quad Strength

  1. Sit on the front half of a stable, heavy chair that will not tip over backward (Photo A) or put the back of a lighter chair against a wall.
  2. Stand up using a 1-2 count (Photos B and C).
  3. Slowly lower yourself back down into a sitting position using a 1-2-3-4 count. It should take you longer to return to your seated position. Controlled movement is important. DO NOT plop down onto the seat. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.

Thoracic Extension

Thoracic Extension
  1. Step 1 Stand or sit up straight on a chair. Place your hands behind your head.
  2. Step 2 While keeping your neck neutral, extend your upper back squeezing shoulder blades down and back. Hold this position 1-2 seconds. Return to starting position and repeat 10 repetitions at a time.

Single-Leg Glute Kicks (Donkey Kicks)

Single-Leg Glute Kicks (Donkey Kicks)
  1. In the all-fours position on the floor, extend your thigh upward 90 degrees in a kicking motion.
  2. Repeat slowly or rapidly as desired.
  3. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
  4. This can be done with your knee straight or bent to shift your weight.

Moderate Stair Step for Quad Strength

  1. Stand on the ground in front of a step/set of stairs. Use the handrail for balance as needed. Place your left (leading) foot on the first step (Photo A).
  2. Step up one step with your right leg, so that both feet are on the first step (Photo B). Do these two movements to a count of 1-2.
  3. Keeping your left foot on the step, step down backward with your right leg to return to your starting position to the count of 1-2-3-4.
  4. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.
  5. Repeat with the opposite leg as the leading leg.

Lumbar Extension

Lumbar Extension

Step 1 Stand up straight. Place your hands on your lower back.
Step 2 Slowly bend backwards as far as you comfortably can, focusing on arching your lower back. Hold this position for 1-2 seconds. Return to starting position and repeat 10 repetitions at a time.

Shoulder I-Y-T’s

Shoulder I-Y-T’s
  1. Lie on your stomach with arms and legs extended.
  2. Shoulders back, lift your arms off the floor to form an “I”.
  3. Hold for 5-10 seconds. Repeat 2-4 times.
  4. Next, lift your arms in a “Y” position, palms inward. Perform the same as the “I” position.
  5. Repeat the move with your arms in the “T” position.

Advanced Heel Raises for Calf Strength

Advanced Heel Raises for Calf Strength
  1. Stand on the bottom stair on the front of one foot, so that your heel is off the edge of the stair and your other leg is hanging, not supporting you. Use the rail for balance if needed.
  2. Slowly lower your heel below the level of the stairs to the count of 1-2-3-4 (Photo A). Control is important.
  3. Then, rise onto your toes to the count of 1-2 so that your heel is up as high as possible (Photo B), your other foot still hanging, and not providing support.
  4. Repeat as many times as you feel matches your fitness level.
  5. Repeat with the other leg.

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