Physical therapy is like running a marathon.
It requires endurance, commitment, and patience, along with a painful, uphill climb.
It’s really hard.
Life’s toughest endeavors are usually worthwhile. But that doesn’t mean your determination won’t falter.
Professional physical therapy can be more effective than symptom-based medical treatments. It constitutes most treatment plans, and its long-term benefits include less pain, full range of motion, and overall improved health.
But despite its numerous advantages, it’s still hard to stay motivated.
Here are 5 strategies for making physical therapy worthwhile to you both now and later.
1. Start with Small Goals
Achievement is an amazing mental boost. In PT, it’s a physical boost, too. But anyone can miss this quick, beneficial rush of mental adrenaline when focusing solely on end goals. As a baseball pitcher, for instance, your ultimate goal may be the return of your shoulder’s full mobility. But that will take some time.
To stay grounded through the long haul and keep from burning out, try directing your energy towards what you want to accomplish in sports therapy today. Keep it simple and just focus on completing your exercises. Then, think about next week. Your goal will be accomplishing the same exercises with more repetitions. And next month, you’ll aim for further extension of your rotator cuff by adding some high-to-low rows.
If you like visuals, you even can make a list or a chart to plot your objectives, checking them off as you go. Progress is promising, and tiny victories keep us going. They’re candy for self-confidence and keep our eyes on the ultimate physical prize.
Whether it’s a return to your favorite sport or better balance through spine rehabilitation, successful therapy is the culmination of a dozen tiny steps. Take it slow and steady.
2. Be Your Biggest, Most Positive Supporter
It’s so easy, when things are difficult, to feel discouraged and think negatively. It’s a trap door that is always waiting to catch us. Instead, practice a positive mindset. Encourage yourself for what you accomplished today rather than fretting over what you feel you failed to do.
For optimal physical therapy results, patients must commit to detailed, difficult work. And that continual need for serious concentration leaves little room for pessimism. Imagine trying the latest diet. You eat perfectly for five days before succumbing to a handful of cookies. Now, because you slipped up once, you are obsessing over your shortcomings and lack of self-control. By indulging this frustration, though, you’re missing the point. For five days, your diet was healthier than it ever used to be. And more importantly, no one is perfect. That’s why many diets have designated cheat days to keep dieters sane and to thwart unrealistic expectations.
Physical therapy is the same. There will be days when everything is going well, and you feel hopeful. Other days, you may feel like you’re back to square one. In both scenarios, you must treat yourself kindly. Don’t let these small disappointments stand in your way. Pat yourself on the back for what you have accomplished so far—and keep going.
3. Imagine Yourself Injury-Free
Continuing with optimism and the power of positive thinking, visualizing your life post-physical therapy is also an effective mind-game. Depending on your injury, it’s not a fantasy. Returning to life as you knew it is usually achievable.
This shouldn’t take the attention away from your smaller goals. Those are still key. But keeping the big picture in mind reminds you what all your efforts will be worth. If you’re working through sports rehab physical therapy, picture yourself back on the court or field, scoring points for your team. If you’re in the midst of physical therapy for your sciatica, imagine an outdoor hiking adventure you haven’t enjoyed in years. This time, when you join the team and hit the trails, you won’t take anything for granted. You’ve fought too hard for that.
Consider combining this tactic with meditation to yield even greater results. It can help with pain and stress management and keep your mindset clear and focused.
4. Find the Right Therapist
Teamwork makes the dream work, right?
Most in home physical therapy exercises are done independently. But whenever possible, it helps to have a partner to lean on—literally. That’s what physical therapists are for. Physical therapists are technical, trained experts in their field, but they aren’t there solely to instruct you on the latest equipment or hand over a quick list of physical therapy exercises for your knee.
Physical therapists exist to personally and intimately guide your progress, field your concerns, and cheer you on throughout your rehabilitation.
If you don’t feel like this is the service you’re being provided or you’re lacking good rapport with your therapist, find someone else. You need solid support along your journey.
Outpatient physical therapy and sports medicine clinics are in the business of working with your requests and adjusting to your individual needs. So, don’t hesitate to find the trainer that fits. Your success is everyone’s success, which makes the best, most progressive physical therapy a concerted, team approach.
5. Reward Yourself for Your Hard Work
You did it! You completed a week’s worth of physical therapy. It’s time to celebrate with lunch and a movie and a nice long nap.
Or, maybe it was your day in the clinic. The resistance bands you were tasked to use left you really sore. Buy some frozen yogurt at the neighboring shop and carve out time at the park. Or, follow-up with a sports massage.
Countering your hard work with immediate rewards compensates your efforts and gives you something to look forward to. And, if you have something to look forward to, it’s not as much of a chore returning to difficult work. It’s like the reward that comes from accomplishing small goals, but a bonus treat.
Whenever you can, don’t hesitate to make your life easier along your physical therapy journey. It’s a physical and mental challenge, but it’s worth reaching the finish line. You’ll be thankful you chugged along.