6 Ways to Maintain Physical Therapy Progress Away from Home

Brought to you by Creative Healing for Youth in Pain's Parenting Blog

Sabine Combrié, PT, CST-T
May 13, 2024 / 5 mins read

Doing physical therapy exercises at home is crucial to recovery and rehabilitation for many injuries and conditions. We are approaching the summer vacation season, and some of our young patients are preparing to leave their family home for college. To keep their progress during their in-office physical therapy treatments, they will need to be independent with their physical therapy home program while away from their familiar home environment.

Not everyone has access to a fully-equipped home gym or specialized therapy equipment. Thankfully, it's entirely possible to perform practical physical therapy exercises with minimal or no equipment. Here's how you can make the most of any home or away environment to stay on track with your physical therapy goals.

1. Understand Your Needs
First, it’s essential to understand the specific exercises the physical therapist prescribes. Each exercise is tailored to your rehabilitation needs, improving strength, flexibility, endurance, or balance. Ensure that you know each exercise's correct form and purpose to maximize its effectiveness and prevent injury.

2. Use Household Items as Props
I recommend my patients always have a piece of TheraBand with them wherever they go for stretching and strengthening. However, you can use everyday household items as substitutes for traditional physical therapy equipment:

  • Chairs: Sturdy chairs can be excellent for balance exercises and seated or standing stability exercises. They can also serve as props for leg stretches or as support during exercise.

  • Counters: A kitchen counter can be used as a prop to hold onto for balance exercises.

  • Towels: A foam roller is a tool I very often recommend using at home. However, when it is unavailable, rolled-up towels can replace foam rollers for muscle-release exercises. You can also use a towel to assist in stretching exercises, such as pulling a leg up while lying on your back or on a shoulder to help lower a first rib or clavicle that’s a little too high and causing tension in neck and shoulder muscles.

  • Walls: Walls are great for support during stretches and strength exercises. Wall push-ups are an excellent way to build upper body strength, usually enough if performed in good form. Wall push-ups also calm the nervous system due to the tremendous sensory feedback effect of the exercise. This is very helpful for people with chronic pain.

  • Stairs: If there are stairs where you are staying, they can be incredibly beneficial for cardiovascular exercises like step-ups. You can also use them for more dynamic movements like stair-climbing to improve leg strength and endurance with control. They can also be used for calve stretches.

  • Canned Goods or Water Bottles: These can substitute lightweight items. When recommended and applicable, they are helpful for added resistance during arm or wrist rehabilitation exercises. The shoulder “pendulum exercise” holding a canned good can also help to relax shoulder tension.

3. Leverage Body Weight Exercises
Many effective physical therapy exercises don’t require any equipment at all. Body weight exercises utilize your own weight to provide resistance and can be performed anywhere. Here are a few to consider:

  • Squats and Lunges: Great for strengthening the lower body, including the hips, thighs, and buttocks. Always perform them very slowly and in control.

  • Push-ups: These can be modified against a wall or on the knees to reduce strain while strengthening the upper body.

  • Planks: These can be excellent for core strengthening. I usually recommend modifying planks by performing them on your knees or elbows to decrease difficulty.

4. Focus on Flexibility and Stretching
Flexibility exercises are vital to most physical therapy programs and usually require no equipment. Focus on gentle stretching to improve muscle elasticity and joint mobility (though hyperflexible people, such as EDS-diagnosed patients, need to be careful). Stretching exercises – like hamstring stretches, arm crosses, and neck rotations – are simple yet effective and can be done multiple times throughout the day. I usually recommend stretching gently after working on proper posture correction.

5. Consistency is Key
The effectiveness of any home therapy program lies in its consistency. Set up a schedule throughout the day. I always suggest that my patients try to incorporate exercise into their daily routine so it doesn’t feel too imposing. Regular practice not only aids in recovery but also helps maintain the body’s well-being.

6. Stay in Touch with Your Therapist
Finally, keep in regular contact with your physical therapist. I always tell my patients to reach out to me with any questions. Communication is the key to making sure exercises are performed well.

Regular updates can help your therapist provide adjustments and guidance, ensuring that your home program supports your recovery effectively. Sometimes, a few PT sessions with the therapist via Zoom help provide guidance and follow-up with exercises.

Physical therapy at home doesn’t have to be complicated or require expensive equipment. With some creativity and commitment, you can effectively pursue your rehabilitation goals using the simple tools available in your environment. This will help you make the best of it and develop some healthy habits to carry throughout your life.