The Skinny on Home Exercises Programs

By Melanie E. Swan, OTR/L

What is a home exercise program (HEP)?
A home exercise program is a select group of exercises or activities that your therapist has designed specifically for you. These activities should be done at home between therapy sessions, as per your therapist’s instructions.

Why is a home exercise program important?
Your frequency/participation in therapy sessions may vary from one week to the next, but what you do outside of therapy can have a significant impact on your overall progress. Following an individualized home exercise program can be an important component of treatment as it helps you continue to make progress in strength, endurance, movement and function in between therapy sessions.

What does a home exercise program look like for people with CRPS?
Home exercise programs vary depending on your individual needs. Often home exercise programs will initially focus on scrubbing/weight loading and desensitization techniques to begin actively engaging the muscles in the affected area and help you manage your pain better. After the initial phase of scrubbing and desensitization, the home exercise program may be upgraded to focus on increasing range of active movement and improving strength.

Many home exercise programs will include functional activities in addition to stretches and exercises. These activities may be things such as drinking from a cup with the affected hand or wearing a shoe on the affected foot. Often these activities are based on tasks that you currently have difficulty performing. They may be things that you do for short periods of time frequently throughout the day to help you incorporate the affected area back into routine activities.

Can I make progress without a home exercise program?
Yes, you can make progress in therapy sessions and some of that progress may carry over into improved participation in functional activities. However, consistent participation in exercises/activities outside of therapy sessions, as directed by your therapist, may help you to achieve your goals more quickly.

If I do my home program exercises more often than I was prescribed, will I get better faster?
Not necessarily. When your therapist designs a program for you to follow at home, (s)he carefully considers your current functional level, strength, endurance, health status and pain level. Your home exercise program is designed to challenge those areas. Over-challenging areas by upgrading your exercises independently may result in greater fatigue and pain, limiting your ability to participate fully in your therapy sessions and impeding your progress.

You should always discuss any changes to your home exercise program with your therapist so that (s)he can monitor your response and help you be successful in achieving your goals.