Let’s face it: no one goes to physical therapy just because they want to. While physical therapy helps people of all ages who have medical conditions, illnesses or injuries that limit their regular ability to move and function, it can be a frustrating (and sometimes uncomfortable) process.
An important component of many physical therapy plans involves specific exercises that need to be performed daily. However, even the best of us can lose the motivation to complete these exercises every day. Although you know it’s important to do, it can easily become a burden to perform all of your exercises at home. Add in the stress of the coronavirus pandemic and you have a recipe for disaster!
If this sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone. Research suggests that as few as 35% of physical therapy patients adhere to their at-home exercise regimens (1). “Many people start therapy thinking that they can easily change their sedentary habits,” says Christy Wilson, DPT, a physical therapist here at Arthritis & Sports. “Even if you start out strong, things like time constraints and lack of motivation can creep up.”
Luckily, there’s still hope! Motivation is different for everybody, involving many variables that affect each person differently. What may motivate you won’t necessarily motivate another person. If you are a soccer player who hurt themselves on the field, you may be motivated to work hard in order to return to the sport that you enjoy. If you underwent a joint replacement, it may be the idea of gaining back your independence and mobility that motivates you to work hard.
So how can you stay motivated to continue towards your goals? Below are some key factors that can make those goals appear more attainable and hit them out of the park!
#1. Celebrate Every Victory, Even the Small Ones
Your recovery is going to be a journey, and every journey is made up of steps. During your initial visit, your physical therapy will perform an assessment where they collect information about your injury and condition. This includes measuring your strength, range of motion, balance, and flexibility. Ask your therapist questions about why they are performing these measurements, and how they fit into the goals you may have. Didn’t ask them during your first appointment? Don’t fret! You should feel comfortable asking your therapist questions about your treatment plan at any time. Knowing how these measurements fit into your goals will allow you to track your progress that much better, but that’s only half the battle. Setting realistic goals that include clear milestones will you to track your progress more effectively. Start with simple goals, which progress into larger goals. You may want to complete your first 5K after your hip replacement surgery, but you have to learn to take that first pain-free step. It’s easy to get frustrated and give up if your goals are too ambitious, but setting smaller goals will allow you to track your progression and stay confident in your progress.
#2. Find Your Personal Soundtrack
Music can be a fantastic motivator. It can also be a great distractor. Anyone who has worked out before knows that listening to music can help you work through the pain and discomfort you may feel when the exercise gets tough. Although we have music playing in our physical therapy office, it may not be your cup of tea. Finding the right music for you may change that dreaded day of therapy into a more pleasant experience. If music’s not your things, other media like podcasts or books-on-tape may be right for you.
#3. Make It Part of Your Daily Routine
The work you do outside the clinic is just as, if not more, important than the time you spend in the clinic, so it is very important to complete your home exercise program. If you feel like you never have the time to work out, you need to learn how to make the time. Some of the most committed exercisers do it every day before the sun comes up or late at night when the kids are in bed. Sit down with your weekly schedule and try to build in the time to be good to your body. If it's hard to find time for exercise, don't fall back on excuses. Scheduling workouts as you would any other important activity will help you stay committed to your program. Don’t have time to perform all of your exercises at once? Talk to your physical therapist about ways to split up your routine to make it more manageable.
#4. Change Your Perspective
It’s easy to get bogged down in the monotony of an exercise program, easily losing interest and focus. One thing that can help is to think about the goals you set with your physical therapist during your initial visit. For some, the thought of getting back to normal is a simple cue that can make the exercises appear more important. For others, thinking of bigger things to come can give your focus a kick. “When you link your treatment to the kind of person you want to be, it can help you stay motivated in the long haul,” says Christy. While thinking about big goals may work for you, they aren’t the only things to think about. Making smaller goals can help you make a connection between the exercises and their larger purpose. For a patient that had their knee replaced, completing heel slides throughout the day can be difficult and uncomfortable. But completing these will allow you to bend your knee more effectively, which in turn will allow you to walk more smoothly.
#5. Be Realistic
Every day will not go as planned. There are some days that you will be too busy or simply don’t feel up to exercising. It’s important to try to do at least a little bit of exercising. You may be surprised and find yourself more energized after. Other days, you simply can’t do anything. Remember that it’s okay to take a day off – just make sure to get back on track as soon as you can. Don’t allow one day to derail your whole exercise experience. Allow yourself to be human, while still holding yourself accountable.
Now that you've regained your motivation, get moving! Set your goals, make it fun and pat yourself on the back from time to time. Remember, physical activity is for life. Review these tips whenever you feel your motivation slipping, and you’re guaranteed to speed your recovery along! If you are in need of a good physical therapist, we invite you to call us and schedule an appointment with one of the therapists here at Arthritis & Sports. To stay up-to-date on the latest news and tips from us, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter by clicking below. References: 1. Rizzo J. (2015) Patients’ mental models and adherence to outpatient physical therapy home exercise program. Physiotherapy Theory & Practice, 31(4): 253-9.