Behavior change is an often-underestimated factor of a successful physical therapy or sports rehab program. As we all know, it takes more than exercising only during office visits to resolve a patient’s condition. Especially when their visits are limited they need to be able to perform exercises on their own and ideally turn that ‘homework’ into a lifelong habit. Here some practical insights on how to increase program adherence.
1. Keep it simple
Most of us love exercises and the more complex and challenging the better; however, this doesn’t apply to all your patients. For some people exercise can be intimidating and overwhelming. It’s important to find exercises they can perform on their own without hurting themselves, while still improving their condition. Start with 2 to 3 exercises that can be done in 5 or 10 minutes. The most used excuse for not sticking to an exercise program is lack of time, but who can’t find 10 minutes per day? Once the patient has dedicated 5 to 10 minutes daily for a few weeks it will become second nature.
2. Share your mid-term treatment plan
Clearly explain the treatment plan to help your patient understand the goals and expectations for each treatment phase. It’s easier for patients to commit to something if they can see the big picture and this will prevent them from skipping sessions or dropping out once they feel better. Understand what would motivate the patient to follow the plan such as being pain free or able to participate in certain activities. This will help you to make the plan and targets relevant to them. Also make the patient aware of their responsibility of the treatment success.
3. Create check points along the way
Having check-ins or mini assessments to track progress can help identify achievements and increase accountability. Create clear milestones of your treatment plan and make sure your patients are aware of them.
4. Update the program regularly
Once the patient is successful with the initial ‘homework’ and feels good about it, you can progress them to a slightly more challenging exercise program. This will not only make them physically adapt, but also keep the program fresh and interesting. Exercises can easily be progressed by changing the base of support to something more unstable, adding resistance or involving more muscles. One easy example is to add a band around the knees while performing a side lying clam shell.
5. Make it trackable
Asking the patient to log their daily activities will not only keep the patient more accountable it will also provide you with valuable data that can be discussed when you meet in person. Next to sets and reps it is important that you tell your patients to record any pain and how they felt about the exercise intensity. This will allow you to identify if you should increase exercise volume or switch to different exercises.
Every new patient that walks into your office provides a new chance to help an individual create healthier habits and start integrating more movement into their daily lives. They might start with baby steps, but end up running a marathon.