Remember, I'm just sharing my personal experience with this particular hospital in this particular country. Other missionaries at this same center will have different viewpoints, as will missionary PTs serving in other places.
Being able to design a good home exercise program is a necessary skill for any physical therapist. We can't undo in a few 30 min sessions per week what the patient is doing the rest of the time, and we can't do enough exercise in that session to really cause lasting improvement. PT sessions are more about the PT providing hands-on training and techniques, and then providing education about what the patient can do on their own. Sometimes, we really just teach the patients how to help themselves.
In order to make sure our patients can remember their exercises, we will write them down, give them handouts, or pull from the exercise banks in specialized computer programs to create individual HEPs (home exercise programs). Some clinics go so far as to email the HEPs to the patients or have them use specific apps where the app will send push notifications when the HEP has been updated.
That's all well and good, but no matter how simple I make the exercise instructions, how few exercises I prescribe, and how much I try to get the patient to buy into it, there are few patients that will actually follow their HEP.
So at the next visit when I ask, "How did your HEP go?" I'm not usually surprised to hear some sort of excuse. Believe me, I've heard quite a few!
But what if I'm only going to see this patient once or twice? Then the HEP is super important, and I may even give them several phases of exercises with dates to start each new phase.
But what about when a patient doesn't speak English? Ah, not to worry! Most computer programs have multiple languages installed and you can switch between them with the click of a button.
But what if they're illiterate? Well, that's easily solved by giving them a picture of the exercise and talking them through it, using an online HEP generator that as short videos of each exercise, or even emailing them links to YouTube videos.
But what about if they're an oral learner? (Yeah... that's not the same thing as being illiterate. I didn't know that until I started working almost exclusively with women who not only don't speak English, but they don't read or write in their own language, nor do they see pictures as relaying information.) Working with oral learners is a whole different ball game.
If you saw this, what would you think the woman is doing?
|image courtesy of Visual Health Information|
If you said, "She's getting up," you'd be right. If you looked at it well and replied, "She's getting up from a stool without using her hands, and it looks like she's keeping her right foot tucked under the stool while she stands up," you'd get extra points.
What most of my patients see is a stool and three women: one is leaning forward, one is standing, and there's also a trunk and upper body of a third woman. That's it. They don't immediately see that action is taking place, nor is the picture telling them anything about how the woman is getting up.
What about this one?
|image courtesy of Visual Health Information|
You probably see a woman who is lying down and then lifting her hips up in the air. If I explained that the small arrow on the left and the solid line semi-circle/dotted line means she is to squeeze her pelvic floor muscles, you'd probably say, "Oh, I see that now." I bet that I could then ask you to lie down and demonstrate this exercise and you'd probably do all right.
My patients have a really hard time with this picture. Not only have they probably never seen a bridging exercise before, the concept of describing an internal muscle contraction by arrows and lines on a picture is foreign to them.
So what I usually do is 1) teach them all the HEP exercises while they're in the clinic, 2) tell them their HEP, and 3) have them repeat it for me at least once.
That takes time, it takes patience, and it takes keeping things really simple. I can't give them five different exercises, even if two of them are the same exercise done in different positions, they will probably not remember it and then I've wasted both of our time. (Oh, and I also don't usually have them count any higher than 20, since some may not be able to do that.)
So I do things in 5s or 10s. Hold this position or exercise for five seconds, relax, do it five times, then do this five times per day. Or squeeze 10 times very quickly, relax, do it 10 times. Or I give them three exercises, each to be done three times, three times per day.
(All my PT friends are gasping right about now! We were taught never to prescribe 3 sets of 10 for an exercise nor to just pick a number willy-nilly; every exercise, every duration, every frequency was to be carefully thought out and appropriately advanced for each patient. Yes, well, this is Africa!)
Once a patient is ready to go home--either she's achieved her goals, her progress has plateaued, she wants to go home/her spending money is finished, or for some other reason--I try to give them a pictorial handout with the three or four most important exercises for her to continue doing. I don't both with written exercise prescriptions, but I might write a large number beside each picture to remind them how many of each one to do (some of my patients can recognize numbers, even if they can't read). I spend time talking about each exercise, reminding her that the woman in the picture is doing the exact same thing as she is supposed to do. I then ask her to tell me each exercise and what she is to do. If necessary, I correct her, then ask her to tell me again. If it sounds like it takes a while, you're right, it does!
The first few months I was here, I spent hours online trying to find pictures of various exercises, only to find that there were very few photos I could actually use. In the US, I can use photos of guys without shirts, women in shorts and sports bras, and people using various household items for exercises. Here, I want to be mindful to use illustrations instead of photos, use only women as models, and to have them appropriately clothed---oh, and if they're actually doing the right exercise, so much the better! Drawing the illustrations myself was out of the questions; I'm not an artist and my stick figures were more confusing than anything!
I remembered that when I was working in the US, I used a computer program with hundreds of illustrations that were highly customizable. If I wanted the same exercise lying down, sitting, and standing up? No problem. Want to make it a woman instead of a man? No problem. Want to change the wording and give more detailed instructions or change the sets/reps? No problem. Want to flip the image so it shows the person working the right side instead of the left side? No problem.
I looked into purchasing the program for myself, but the steep price tag is definitely geared more towards clinics that can purchase multiple licenses for all its workstations and clinicians. So I decided to go out on a limb and ask the company for a corporate donation of their basic software and several of the modules/exercise banks. To my surprise, they agreed! A week later, I had the download link and all the exercises I would need to treat my orthopedic and pelvic patients. With this program, I can easily create HEPs, save routines, modify existing exercises, and then print/save/email as PDF. While I use it several times a week in the clinics, it's also come in handy many times with missionaries and friends reaching out to me for PT help.
A huge shout out and a thank you to Visual Health Information!
And if I ever need to create an HEP for a feline friend, I'll know exactly where to start: