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Motivating Physical Therapy Patients

Trading medicine and surgery for movement, physical therapy has the power to heal a diverse array of people including accident victims, athletes and military members. It can also improve the motor skills of patients with limitations like arthritis and traumatic brain injuries.

With the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting the physical therapy industry to grow by 39 percent over the next decade, this treatment option proves to be an effective path to wellness. While physical therapy produces similar outcomes, it faces the unique challenge of keeping patients motivated to follow through with treatment exercises. It may also prove difficult to quantify personal motivations, which can be critical to recovery. It’s important for physical therapists to play a central role in maintaining motivation for the successful rehabilitation of the patient.

Set Small Goals Before Milestones

The concept of bite-sized goals is especially relevant to physical therapy. Before a patient with a leg injury can run, they have to learn how to take that first step. If the goal is too lofty, he or she might not have the motivation to try to reach it. By building off of small movements, a patient may perceive progress faster, which can keep them moving in the direction of that long-term goal.

According to Sharon Elayne Fair’s “Wellness and Physical Therapy,” weekly short-term goals give patients a clear way to understand what they should be working on and allow them to easily measure how to reach these goals. Starting with a small number of repetitions or modest duration of exercise will give patients the endurance and ease to reach bigger aspirations in the following weeks. As patients are working towards their goals, physical therapists have a responsibility to educate individuals and maintain motivation. With encouragement and reassurance, professionals can provide the support necessary for patients to reach their goals and propel the healing process.

Make Follow-Through Easy at Home

It’s one thing when a patient comes to a physical therapist’s office and feels the pressure to complete their exercises properly under the watchful eye of doctors of physical therapy (DPT). But without this kind of supervision and accountability to follow them home, patients may be distracted from their exercise objectives.

Fortunately, physical therapists can engineer ways to motivate patients away from the office. It starts in the details of the directions a DPT provides to every client. From the initial consultation to the daily communication with the patient, it’s the responsibility of the physical therapist to evaluate how to translate the exercises for patients when they’re outside the office. A study in the Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association discovered that patients stick to their physical therapy routines better when the goals and activities are tailored to their daily lives.

This seamless exercise integration might mean providing patients with the necessary exercise equipment or suggesting suitable alternatives found in every home. For example, a DPT can illustrate how a stretching strap can be substituted with a beach towel. Physical therapy doctors can also adjust home programs to an individual’s learning style. If the patient is a visual learner, providing a link to an online video of their exercises might prove easier for the patient to follow, rather than giving a list of written instructions.

Foster a Trusting Relationship

With a patient’s physical functions in the hands of a DPT, trust becomes central to rehabilitation. Patients are compelled to rely on the judgment and skill of a physical therapist to help them effectively recover. Every element of the patient’s encounter with the DPT can influence a successful outcome. A study from the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine found patients experienced greater improvement of lower back pain when physical therapy doctors provided motivational enhancements through the course of their rehabilitation.

Physical therapists may cultivate a bedside manner that evokes empathy and clearly communicates the goal of therapeutic tasks in order push the patient to succeed. Through often painful recoveries, patients anticipate a DPT to offer the dependability and responsiveness to work them through challenges. Additionally, a professional, compassionate relationship builds the foundation for a patient to accomplish weekly goals and work diligently on PT tasks at home.

Physical therapy training may be grounded in improving mobility and function, but doctors of [physical therapy must also be well-versed in motivational factors to succeed in practice. Through an online transitional doctor of physical therapy degree, like the one offered at Utica College, physical therapists can hone their skills and experience in wellness, prevention, diagnostics, pharmacology and general practice at their own pace. And by developing a deeper understanding of motivation through a convenient education, physical therapists may be closer to giving patients every tool necessary to succeed.