When a patient enters physical therapy, it is assumed the speed of their recovery will depend on their relationship with their therapist. But what a patient gets out of therapy depends primarily on what they put into it. Even the best therapist cannot help someone who does not do the work. And though the benefits are obvious, many struggle. They are not lazy, but the obstacles can seem almost insurmountable. Perhaps they have had a stroke or broken their hip and are confined to bed, barely able to raise their feet. Under these circumstances, it is not surprising patients give up. Physical therapists do what they can to motivate patients, but it is family that makes the difference. When family is involved in physical therapy, patients push themselves harder, adhering to their program even when progress seems impossible to them.
Role of the Patient in Recovery
No matter how dedicated, physical therapists rarely get a chance to meet patients more than two or three times a week. Therapists can accomplish a lot in these sessions, significantly improving the patient’s strength, balance, and endurance. However, these gains will not last if the patient does not exercise on their own. After a few days, their muscles will atrophy and they will have regressed back to zero, stuck going nowhere.
The sad truth is patients do not have unlimited time with their therapist. Every care plan has a cutoff date – two months, six months, maybe longer if the patient is seriously debilitated. If they are going to see any progress, they cannot afford to waste time.
Of course, no amount of time is enough if they do not follow their therapists’ instructions. For days when they do not meet, therapists give patients a set of exercises to build strength and endurance. They never ask anyone to do more than they are capable of. Nonetheless, patients fall behind and miss their goals. It is a problem of motivation.
The Moral Dimension
People sometimes deride moral support as nothing more than empty words. However, for someone struggling through recovery, moral support is everything. It gives patients a sense of hope, breaks unhealthy patterns, and encourages them to put in the effort required to reach their goals. Encouragement can mean the difference between a walker and a cane, between staying confined to bed or standing on their own two feet.
Family Physical Therapy in Action
Our therapist remembers one patient who had suffered an injury and could not support her weight, even for a few seconds. She had spent three months moving constantly in and out of nursing facilities. She got tired so easily, there were days she could barely open her eyes. By the time she met our therapist, she had regressed so far, they were thinking of transferring her to hospice care.
No one thought there was any hope for her, except her daughter. Every morning and afternoon without fail, she ran her mother through her exercises. And every day she got a little stronger. Progress was incremental, but she kept it up religiously. No one would have believed it, but after a month or two, her mother was able to bear her own weight. First for only a few seconds, but then longer. Her confidence was growing. After a few more sessions, she was able to take a few small, shuffling steps. Then, with her daughter’s help, she was able to make it 60 or 70 yards. No one thought she would ever walk again, but she made it from an invalid to independent in less than a year. That is the power of the family in physical therapy.
Offering Moral Support
Even if a therapist graduated top of their class, there is little they can do if the patient is not motivated. To fill the gap, family needs to intervene. People like to think of themselves as islands, but the truth is we rely on each other to stay healthy. Left alone to face a serious problem, we generally sink into despair. However, with others to make us feel loved and worthy, we find the strength to carry on.
How to Help
In addition to its moral dimension, family physical therapy has practical aspects as well. To be effective, family members should:
- Learn About Their Loved One’s Condition. Understanding the scope of the problem lets you manage expectations and avoid potential pitfalls.
- Set Realistic Goals. Be honest about your loved one’s abilities and what they can achieve.
- Talk to the Therapist. Learn what exercises they recommend for each stage of recovery. Remember, you are part of a team.
- Be Direct. If the patient is resistant, do not be afraid to lay out the consequences of their behavior.
- Do Not Give Up. Patients will have good days and bad days. Sometimes they will be hopeful. Sometimes they will be despondent. But however they feel, keep pushing. It will take a while, but the further they progress, the easier it will be to motivate them.
Finally, take others’ advice with a grain of salt. Family knows each other better than most, especially what drives them to get out of bed. Strategies that worked with one person will not necessarily work on another, so trust your judgement.
Role of the Family in Physical Therapy
Patients thrive when families take an active role in therapy. Their support motivates us to succeed, even when we do not think we can. When we have been laid low, they are the ones who help us get back on our feet.
Parentis Health works with patients to rebuild and maintain their physical abilities. Whether you have suffered an injury or are dealing with a chronic illness, our therapists are here to help recover your strength.
Lewis Jackson writes about technology and healthcare. His work provides practical insight into modern medicine and healthy living.