Should I Self-Administer Physical Therapy At Home?

If you have a mobility issue caused by an injury, you might be wondering if it’s necessary to consult a physical therapist or if you could manage the therapy part on your own at home and teach yourself PT using YouTube or an online course. 

Physical Therapy can seem expensive if you’re on a budget and haven’t experienced the benefits of professional physical therapy before. Plus, you’ll need to make time to travel to and attend appointments, so is it worth it?

We think so, obviously. But let’s explore the pros and cons of self-administered physical therapy versus a professional PT in a little more detail… In this blog, we share why consulting a physical therapist is beneficial and how to begin DIY physical therapy at home. 

*While you can do physical therapy at home, we recommend you consult with a physical therapist or doctor first to evaluate your proposed exercise regime to prevent further injury. 

In the digital age, it’s possible to teach yourself how to do just about anything. Whatever you fancy, like flower arranging, watercolor painting, or building yourself a summerhouse for the yard.

All you need to do is download a guide or watch a few YouTube videos, and hey, presto! – you’ve saved hundreds of dollars on the cost of a contractor or expensive flower arrangement or got yourself a satisfying new creative hobby. But would you download a “Guide to Dentistry” and attempt to pull out your teeth?

No, probably not. What about fitting a gas boiler with no prior experience? Performing minor surgery or delivering a baby? Hell, no. So, where does do-it-yourself physical therapy sit on this spectrum?

Is It Possible To self-administer Physical Therapy At Home?

I think the honest answer to this question is “kind of.”

(But not really).

You can do a form of physical therapy at home. I.e., you can do the exercises prescribed to you by a Physical Therapist – to maintain your results and keep your body moving in between sessions.

If your doctor has diagnosed a minor case of plantar fasciitis after attempting to go from couch potato to record-breaking marathon runner overnight (admirable but nor advised), then you can probably decide for yourself to take a couple of weeks off, put your feet up in front of Netflix and let the damage heal.

But unless you’ve done 7+ years at physical therapy school studying anatomy and physiology, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to know what is causing your pain. So how can you begin to self-administer treatment? 

When you attend physical therapy sessions, your therapist will first diagnose the problem. Then demonstrate a set of exercises specific to your issue and design a customized workout program for you to do at home.

These results-driven programs are based on many years of experience, impeccable knowledge of human anatomy, and patient feedback. Looking up YouTube videos for the problem you “think” you have and trying to do them independently without proper guidance and supervision doesn’t always turn out well.

Plus, unless the exercises you do are tailored to your specific needs, then they’re probably a bit pointless – apart from serving as a stretching routine. They’re unlikely to fix your problem or offer long-term relief from chronic pain. 

So, we do recommend that patients stay active and mobile with gentle stretching and mobility exercises. But if you’re in pain now, we don’t advise starting any new exercise routine without consulting a physical therapist or your doctor. Especially if your injury is recent and your body is just beginning recovery. You’ve recently undergone surgery, or your doctor has recommended professional physical therapy. 

5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Self-Administer PT At Home

  1. Professional physical therapists undergo extensive training to diagnose and treat physical problems and restore movement and function. You would have to study for 7+ years to be able to self-administer the same level of treatment. 
  2. Doing the wrong exercises can cause further injury, increased pain, and long-term disability.
  3. Physical therapy involves more than a set of generic exercises.
  4. You are unable to self-administer soft tissue massage and manipulation or joint mobilization. 
  5. You’re wasting your time. Physical therapists pinpoint and treat your issue quickly and effectively, so you can go back to work, sports, or just moving, walking, sitting, and standing without pain. 

What Are The Benefits Of Consulting A Professional Physical Therapist?

Physical therapists have experience in all types of physical problems, including:

  • Disabilities and congenital issues that affect movement and mobility 
  • Various injuries from a trip, slip and falls to car accidents, and life-changing brain injuries.  
  • Sports injuries, rehab, and performance-related physical therapy 
  • Pre-surgery preparation. 
  • Post-surgery rehabilitation. 
  • Women’s Health Issues, Pre- and Post-partum PT and Pelvic Problems. 

They can help you achieve the best quality of life and stay fit and healthy, active, and mobile – without pain pills long into retirement. 

Here are just a few things professional Physical Therapists do that you can’t “self-administer” yourself at home:

Evaluate your medical history: The first thing a PT does is evaluate your medical condition and history to determine how it might affect your movement. 

Create an individualized exercise program: We create a safe and effective exercise regimen for you that includes stretches and exercises specific to your pain points. 

Teach you how to perform the exercises properly: This is critical because any activity done without proper form can aggravate your injury or medical condition and cause more pain. 

Adjust your program based on your progress: It’s no use doing the same set of exercises indefinitely. Good recovery is all about progression. So depending on your progress, your PT will modify or tweak your exercise regimen.

Self-Administered Physical Therapy: The Do’s And Don’t 

Of course, we 100% recommend professional physical therapy. Remember, we also offer virtual consultations. But if it isn’t on the cards for you right now and you want to try and help yourself at home. Here are some important points to consider:

Don’t exceed the pain threshold: It is normal to experience discomfort, especially in the initial stages of a new exercise routine. Your PT would typically take charge and judge what is OK. But please do not push it too far when you’re exercising at home. If your pain is severe, contact a doctor. Don’t exceed your pain threshold, as this can aggravate the issue and lengthen your recovery. 

Don’t overdo the stretches: Stretching is integral to physical therapy but having a poor form or overdoing it can be detrimental. For example, overstretching can lead to microtears in your muscles and ligaments that will cause scar tissue. In addition, overstretching can result in your muscles tightening up, even more, reducing flexibility and increasing pain.  

Do your homework: With Google, YouTube, Reddit, and scores of other online resources, an increasing number of patients are turning to online sources for medical information.

While these may be helpful (in some cases), they are no substitute for getting quality information from professional doctors or physical therapists. When you need physical therapy or rehabilitation, the last thing you need is for unqualified individuals to dispense dangerous advice or remedies that could lead to further complications.

Diagnosis is best left to the professionals in their field to identify your requirements based on your history and presenting symptoms. So, only take advice from qualified PTs. 

The bottom line is while doing physical therapy at home is perfectly feasible. However, considering the long-term implications, it is best to at the very least consult a qualified physical therapist before starting. But if you want great results and fast recovery, leave it to the professionals and don’t try to self-administer Physical Therapy at home. We help you:

  • Perform gentle stretching exercises 
  • Modifying your daily routine to decrease pain and improve quality of life
  • Give you solid recommendations on balancing activity with rest
  • Provide massage therapy, soft tissue manipulation, and joint mobilization
  • Provide heat therapy  

Professional help saves both time and money, and it can help you recover quicker in the long term. There could be several reasons why you may be hesitant to seek the advice of a physical therapist. It may be lack of time, limited appointments, or seeming expensive (for those with a limited budget).

While these concerns are valid, it always is best to explore your options and consider the long-term ramifications. At Intecore Physical Therapy, we offer all new patients a free consultation. So you don’t need to make any financial investment until you’re 100% happy that you want to go ahead and book treatment. Book yours now. 

Andrew Vertson