Daily visits to the physical therapist don’t fit into everyone’s schedule.
Keeping your body in good working order is all about being proactive. If you have an injury or medical condition, at-home physical therapy exercise programs are the best way to heal and strengthen those painful and overworked muscles. I’ve put together a tried-and-true list of exercises along with physical therapy exercise images that I recommend for my patients.
What Are Physical Therapy Exercises?
Physical therapy exercises are designed to restore maximum body function with an aim on long-term benefits. This includes recovering from an injury, preventing further damage, relieving pain, or learning to live with a chronic condition. Good for people of any age, they can help to improve blood flow, increase flexibility, develop strength, and enhance endurance.
At-home PT incorporates stretching and strength training, rather than endurance exercise. You don’t need access to gym equipment. In fact, most of these exercises don’t require any equipment at all. The ones that do require simple items you can find around the house.
Types Of Physical Therapy Exercises
Your doctor or physical therapist will recommend a program with specific movements that target your particular condition. Different types of PT exercises are designed to improve:
- Functional mobility
- Range of motion
- Balance (balance exercises are especially helpful for older adults)
- Cardiovascular function
Your workout should always begin with a warm up and stretching. You can find detailed instructions on a good stretching routine here.
Studies show that 99% of physical therapists think therapeutic exercise is key for knee pain. Knee PT can help with debilitating conditions like osteoarthritis, and with healing from injuries. Along with a good supportive knee brace, these moves can provide relief.
Straight Leg Raises
- Lie on your back on the floor.
- Bend one knee so your foot is flat on the floor. Keep the other knee straight.
- Flex the straight knee and lift your leg to the level of your bent knee.
- Hold until you feel the stretch.
- Repeat 10 times on each side.
Standing Quad Stretch
- Using a chair or wall for support, stand on one foot.
- Bend your knee and bring your heel to your buttock.
- Grasp your ankle with the opposite hand.
- Pull your ankle in toward your body until you feel a stretch.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
- Repeat at least 5 times on each side.
- Stand up straight, feet placed slightly apart.
- Slowly bend at the knees and waist so that your quads are almost parallel to the floor.
- Keep your back straight and knees lined up over your ankles.
- Stand back up straight.
- Repeat 5-10 times.
Lateral Leg Raises
- Lie on your side with your legs stacked on top of each other and your arm resting under your head for support.
- Raise your top leg as high as you comfortably can and pause until you feel tension.
- Lower it back down slowly.
- Repeat five times on each side.
- Stand tall with your hands on your waist.
- Take a step backward with your left foot.
- Bend your right knee and lower until your thigh is parallel with the floor and your left heel is lifted.
- Return to the standing position.
- Perform a set of 20 reps, alternating each time.
Knee stability is crucial if you participate in sports that require a lot of starting and stopping. Since these large joints support us in every function, it’s important to keep them healthy. Here are some more knee exercises you can try to increase stability and flexibility.
Hip problems become more common as we age. Whether you are sitting or on your feet all day, these muscles are working to keep your body vertical. If you suffer from hip pain, strengthening and stretching your hip muscles and joints is the best way to find relief. These stretches can also help with lower back pain.
- While sitting on the floor, bend your right leg and extend your left leg behind you.
- Pull your right heel in while keeping your left hip pointed downward.
- Rest your right hand on your thing.
- Alternately, you can walk your hands forward until your chest is resting on your knee.
- Repeat on the other side.
Single-Leg Hip Circles
- Get down on all fours with hands under shoulder, knees under hips, and toes pointed.
- Tighten your core muscles and lift one leg to the side.
- Holding your knee up to the side and front, move it in a circle.
- Repeat ten times forward, then ten times back.
- Switch sides and repeat.
Single-Leg Glute Kicks (Donkey Kicks)
- In the all-fours position on the floor, extend your thigh upward 90 degrees in a kicking motion.
- Repeat slowly or rapidly as desired.
- Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
- This can be done with your knee straight or bent to shift your weight.
- Spread your feet wider than your hips and point your toes at a 45-degree angle.
- With your hands on your waist or clasped in front of you, bend your knees at a 90-degree angle, and hold the position.
- Lift back to the standing position.
- Repeat 15 times.
- Encircle your ankles with the resistance band and step forward far enough to achieve moderate resistance on the band.
- Keeping your spine straight, bend your knees at a 45-degree angle.
- Walk forward while keeping constant tension on the band.
- Repeat walking backward.
These exercises can relieve discomfort while strengthening your hip flexors and all of your lower body. You’ll be amazed at how strength training can help you to move easier. For more ways to work these ball-and-socket joints, check out my list of posture exercises for hip pain relief.
Whether or not you play sports, everyone is likely to experience shoulder and neck pain at some point. After all, we use our arms for many everyday activities. Shoulder exercises can help with discomfort and prevent further damage to the soft tissues. Make sure to include your neck in pre-workout stretches!
Useful Resource: 8 Thoracic Outlet Syndrome Exercises for Pain Relief
- While seated with your spine straight, raise your arms to shoulder height.
- As if hugging a barrel, bend your elbows so that your fingertips meet.
- Rotate at the waist from side to side, feeling the stretch in your shoulder blades.
- Bend slightly at each side as you rotate to work your side muscles.
- Standing with feet together, hold a dumbbell in each hand.
- Keeping your spine straight and abs tight, slowly raise the dumbbells to the side.
- Lift until your arms are parallel with the floor.
- Lower to the starting position.
- Repeat the move 10-12 times.
Standing Upright Rows
- Standing upright with feet slightly spread, grasp a dumbbell overhand in each hand.
- While arching your lower back, lift the dumbbells to just under your chin.
- Adjust so that your elbows are higher than your hands if need be.
- Lower back to the starting position.
- Repeat 10 times.
- Lie on your stomach with arms and legs extended.
- Shoulders back, lift your arms off the floor to form an “I”.
- Hold for 5-10 seconds. Repeat 2-4 times.
- Next, lift your arms in a “Y” position, palms inward. Perform the same as the “I” position.
- Repeat the move with your arms in the “T” position.
External Band Rotation
- Standing tall, grasp the resistance band in an overhand grip so that your arm crosses over your torso at a 90-degree angle.
- Keeping your elbow at your side, rotate your hand and forearm away from your body.
- Slowly reverse back to the starting position.
- Repeat 5-10 times on each side.
Some injuries, like a torn rotator cuff, require surgery to repair. These moves are great for recovery, just make sure to take it easy when starting out and always follow the direction of your Doctor. To relieve shoulder pain, improve poor posture, and free joints that tend to freeze up, try these other physical therapy exercises for shoulder strength.
Foot And Ankle
Many people who are on their feet all day suffer from foot pain. One of the most common conditions is plantar fasciitis, which causes soreness in the heel and arch. While self-massage and wearing good shoes can help with foot discomfort, nothing beats a good stretching exercise. Improving muscle strength can also reduce foot pain.
Wall Calf Stretch
- Stand placing your hands on a wall at eye level.
- Move one foot back with the heel on the ground. Move the other forward and bend the knee.
- Rotate the back foot slightly inward and lean forward until you feel a stretch in your calf.
- Hold for 15-30 seconds.
- Repeat 3 times for each calf.
Step-Up Arch Extensions
- Stand with the ball of your foot on a stair and the other foot raised slightly behind you.
- Lower your heel toward the step below until you feel a stretch in the arch of your foot.
- Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds.
- Repeat 3 times on each side.
- Standing behind a chair, place both of your feet flat on the ground.
- Using the chair for support, raise up on your tiptoes.
- Hold for 5 seconds.
- Slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position.
- Do two sets of 15.
Reach And Stretch
- Stand beside a chair with your injured foot farther from the chair, knee slightly bent.
- Slowly raise the arch of your injured foot, making sure to keep your big toe on the ground.
- In this position, bend at the waist and reach forward with your far hand.
- Do two sets of 15.
Monkey Foot Towel Lifts
- Sit on a chair and place a towel or cloth on the floor in front of you.
- Keeping your heel on the ground, lift the towel with your toes.
- Release the towel.
- Repeat 10-20 times.
- Place a heavy object in the towel to make this move more challenging.
Everything in your body is interconnected, so having strong, flexible leg muscles will greatly help with foot and ankle discomfort. This helpful list of stretches to relieve plantar fasciitis pain can give you some more options for improving strength at home.
Whether you play the game of tennis, or do other activities that cause overuse of the elbow joint, lateral epicondylitis, or tennis elbow, can be incredibly painful. These range of motion exercises can help prepare you for activity or reduce aching associated with Tendonitis and Tendonosis. Consider wearing a supportive tennis elbow brace when active.
- Sit or stand with your right arm resting on a table, palm up, and a dumbbell in hand.
- Slowly lower the dumbbell to the ground, keeping your forearm muscles contracted.
- Once you’ve reached the lowest point, curl back up to the beginning position.
- Repeat three sets of 10 reps on each arm.
Reverse Wrist Curves
- Standing or sitting while gripping a dumbbell, rest your arm on a table, palm down, with the hand hanging off the edge.
- Pull the dumbbell up as high as possible.
- Slowly lower it back to the starting position.
- Repeat three sets of 10 reps on each arm.
- Seated or standing, rest the hand gripping the hammer on a table with the hand hanging off the edge.
- Grip the hammer so it is pointed toward the outside of the body.
- Slowly rotate the hammer toward the inside of your body.
- Do three sets of five reps on each arm.
Supported Bicep Curl
- Seated with your working arm resting on your quad, grip a lightweight dumbbell or E-Z Curl Bar at shoulder width.
- Slowly lower the dumbbell until your arm is almost fully extended. Don’t lock your elbow.
- Pause before curling back up.
- Repeat three sets of 10.
- Seated or standing, rest your forearm on a table with your palm up.
- Grip a rolled-up towel, foam roller, or stress ball in your hand.
- Squeeze the towel and hold for 10 seconds. Release.
- Repeat three sets of 10.
If you suffer from tennis elbow or have tweaked your elbow, strengthening exercises can help regain movement and reduce soreness. These should be done daily, especially before activity. You can find more elbow PT exercises here. Don’t forget to stretch first!
How Do You Know If You Need Physical Therapy?
If your discomfort is getting in the way of participating in the activities that you love, it might be time to see a physical therapist. But therapeutic exercise isn’t just for chronic pain. Difficulty getting around, decreased strength, or loss of range of motion are also indicators that you might need PT or occupational therapy
Physical therapists are also great resources when you want to start a new workout routine. They can help to prevent injuries as well as recover from them. One can help you to set goals and make a plan to achieve them with a home exercise program.
Rehabilitation Is All About Motivation
Physical therapists can offer passive treatment options like massage, electrical stimulation, or joint mobilizations. However, active treatment should be the major part of your rehab program. PT not only helps you to move better; it helps you to feel better.
The number one reason why a patient fails to see results from PT is that he fails to do it! Many find it hard to stick to an at-home routine. Lack of real-time feedback, guidance, and encouragement may cause people to lose motivation. If you have trouble completing a PT routine find ways to modify it to meet your comfort level and push yourself to improve. Be your own coach!
If you’re a visual learner you can find some helpful PT exercise videos here. I hope this helps you to feel better soon!