How to Lead Your Physical Therapy Patient to Care About Their Recovery

As an active individual and ex-physical therapy patient, it was quite a surprise to find out that almost 70% of physical therapy patients don’t do their home exercises. My personal expectation with physical therapy is to recover from my injury and get stronger so that I could return to doing the things that I love to do as soon as possible. That not everyone shares these same goals was quite a shock.

My first experience noticing other people don’t do their exercises was over 10 years ago after my ACL surgery. I was described as an A+ patient and would religiously do my home exercises and make an intense effort to get stronger during the in-clinic exercise program. At one afternoon session, I briefly met another patient in the common workout area of the clinic. On my next clinic visit the following week, my physical therapist, Josh Lenthall at Panther Physical Therapy, mentioned to me that I made an impact on this patient who told Josh that he would be committed to do his exercises after watching me put a lot of effort into doing my exercises.

In this Psychology Today article “The Curse of Apathy: Sources and Solutions”, the author writes “through much psychological research, it’s now accepted science that you must experience feelings about something if you’re to take personally meaningful action on it.”

Maybe it was the feeling of peer pressure that motivated that individual to decide that he could do a better job in caring about his recovery. 

Adam Meakens in his Sports Physio blog believes that humor (or humour since he’s British) is an essential part of physiotherapy. Camaraderie, humor and laughter is used in the fitness world to make exercises fun and enjoyable. Can you make it fun?

One sports rehab clinic uses a bell that the patient gets to ring when they accomplish a major milestone, something like when an ACL surgery patient is able to touch his/her heel to their butt achieving full range of motion. The bell ringing is greeted with applause by the staff and other patients. Talking with their ex-patients, their excitement to be able to ring the bell as well as their support for other people’s successes creates an atmosphere of hard work towards recovery.

Each individual will have their own unique drivers that will motivate them to take meaningful action. Take the time to work with your patient to understand them and get better outcomes.

Start your Free 30-day Trial of the PT-Helper CONNECT tool for physical therapists and other therapy providers to create and prescribe Home Exercise Programs.

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