When you are first starting your physical therapy treatment, it is important to work with your therapist two to three times a week. It is just as important to work on your stretches and exercises at-home as well. After all, spending approximately an hour per week with your physical therapist can only help so much in terms of your progress; performing at-home exercises will help you maximize your results in rehabilitating and retraining the muscle.
Physical therapists will educate and train you on at-home exercises that you can do to strengthen your muscles and sustain your new function. Below, we outline exercises and stretches you can do in the comforts of your own home, with common household items you likely have lying around.
Belt – Place both hands on each end of the belt. Lay on the floor and place your foot on the middle of the belt. In this position, raise your leg as close to your head as you can while keeping your leg straight. Hold this position for ten seconds. This will stretch your calves and hamstring.
Tennis Ball – A tennis ball can make a huge difference in relieving your aches by releasing myofascial stress and tension. Place a tennis ball between your body and the wall. Move your body back and forth and place focus on the area you would like to work on (i.e. shoulders, mid-back, lower back). If you have tight hip muscles, place the tennis ball on the floor. Apply pressure by rolling up and down on the ball between your hip and knee to target your IT band. You can also place the tennis ball on the floor, lay down and roll it horizontally along your spine to relieve back pain.
Soup Cans – If you don’t have dumbbells at home, no sweat! Reach into your cupboard for two cans of soup for some makeshift weights; one 16 ounce can is equivalent to one pound. There are plenty of exercises you can do with soup cans. If you’re looking to strengthen the shoulders, begin by holding a soup can in each hand with your arms to your side. Lift your arms slowly so that your arms are parallel to the floor and at the same level as your shoulders. Lower them slowly and repeat ten times.
Silly Putty – This fun, moldable material is not just for kids. It is also great for building strength and dexterity in your fingers and hands. Simply roll the putty into a ball and place it into your hand. Squeeze it firmly as if it were a stress ball and hold for a few seconds. Release slowly and repeat ten times.
Chair – A chair that has no wheels, such as a kitchen or dining room chair, can be especially useful to perform exercises and stretches on. If you are working on strengthening your knee, a great exercise is the knee flexion stretch. To perform this, sit on the edge of the chair and place the affected leg behind you with the other leg at a 90 degree angle. Hold the stretch for 15 seconds and return it back to the starting position. Repeat.
Hand towel – Hand towels make a great tool for those looking to build their grip strength. If you’re suffering from carpal tunnel or arthritis, try this exercise: roll up the towel between both hands until it is a few inches in diameter. Grip it tightly for five seconds, then release. Repeat this exercise 15 times. Another exercise you can perform: while holding a hand towel, extend your arms behind you as far as you can while keeping them straight. Hold this for ten seconds and repeat.
Performing these at-home exercises are an important component of your treatment and will be integral to your continued growth and treatment’s success. The more you work on stretching, strengthening and retraining your muscles, the more progress you will make on your road to a successful recovery.