How to Use Physical Therapy Equipment at Home

Equipment a physical therapist would recommend

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If you have been injured or ill, had surgery, and are having difficulty with functional mobility, you may benefit from the skilled services of a physical therapist. Your therapist can help you recover quickly and safely, and they can offer strategies so you remain healthy. During physical therapy (PT), your therapist may recommend you use certain pieces of equipment to help you recover.

Physical therapy tools may be just what you need to safely get moving again, but they may be expensive. Having an understanding of what you may need as you recover from injury or illness can help you plan your course of rehab from a financial perspective. (After all, healthcare is expensive, and multiple visits to the PT clinic can add up in co-pay charges.) Having a plan for managing PT equipment and supplies can make your rehab go smoothly.

Woman exercising on a foam roller

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What Is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy is an allied health profession that is provided by doctoral-level trained practitioners. Therapists are movement experts that take a look at your functional mobility (your physical ability to complete daily tasks) and determine what may be causing your loss of mobility. Then, they can create a plan to help you regain your independent mobility.

Physical therapists often use various treatment techniques and modalities to help you move better and feel better. Keep in mind that patient self-care and independence are encouraged. Anything you can do at home without the help of your therapist is going to be good for your recovery. Sometimes that means using extra supplies and equipment during your rehab.

Access to Care

Most patients attend physical therapy at a clinic and attend PT several times each week. And every time you go to the clinic for therapy, you may face an out-of-pocket charge.

One way to lessen the high cost of PT sessions is to practice what you learn on your own. This may mean carefully following your therapist’s instructions and doing your home exercise program exactly as they tell you to. It may also mean buying some PT equipment to use at home.

Physical Therapy Equipment and Exercises

Performing self-care and independent rehab may mean purchasing equipment and supplies that help you recover. Your therapist can tell you which PT supplies may be needed for your specific condition. These supplies can help your rehab and (hopefully) minimize your visits to the PT clinic.

Keep in mind that physical therapists often offer more than just recommendations and exercise; they often act as motivators, and they can quickly analyze your movements to make sure that you are doing your rehab correctly.

For Lower Back Pain

Low back pain may limit your ability to sit, stand, and walk properly. If your back condition causes a pinched nerve, then you may have leg pain or numbness coming from your spine. Treatment usually involves getting pressure off spinal nerves.

Stretches that lessen pressure on your nerves and improve spinal mobility may be done. These may include:

Exercises for strength may be done, and your therapist may recommend you purchase a stability ball for your back exercises.

Another important component of self-care for low back pain is postural correction. Your therapist may recommend you use a lumbar roll to help support your spine while sitting. Lumbar rolls are typically inexpensive, ranging in price from $10 to $30. Plus, you can make your own lumbar roll for postural support by rolling up a bath towel and placing it behind your back.

Your therapist may also recommend a back brace to manage your pain. This piece of PT equipment is often a covered expense by your insurance company, especially if your therapist and physician recommend it.

For Shoulder Pain

If you have shoulder pain, your therapist may recommend you strengthen your rotator cuff muscles in order to properly support your shoulder joint. Purchasing resistance bands may be in order for you to perform these exercises. Small dumbbells, ranging from one to five pounds, may also be useful for strengthening your shoulder muscles.

Some therapists use a specialized taping technique, called kinesiology taping, to improve muscle function in the shoulder. It is something that you can learn to do yourself, so purchasing a roll of kinesiology tape for about $15 may be something that you do for your rehab.

For Leg Pain

If you have leg or thigh pain, you may benefit from performing straight leg raises to improve hip and lower leg strength. Your therapist may use cuff weights in the PT clinic to provide increased resistance.

Some patients benefit from using cuff weights around their ankles at home during leg exercises. An adjustable cuff weight may be best; small metal bars can be added or taken away to change the amount of resistance provided by the weight.

If your physical therapist prescribes stretches for your leg pain, using a stretching strap at home may be an option. One can be purchased for about $20, and it can be used to stretch your hips, hamstrings, quads, and calves.

Sometimes, your physical therapist may use massage techniques to relax and loosen tight muscles. Self-massage may be done with foam rollers or with a handheld massage gun. Your therapist can show you how to provide the best (and safest) self-massage.

For Neck Pain

If you have neck pain, your therapist may use cervical traction in the PT clinic. Did you know that there are traction units that you can use at home? Options may include the Saunders Home Traction device for about $250. A more affordable, but less fancy option for neck pain relief may be the Neck Hammock, a piece of PT equipment that costs about $50.

If your neck bothers you while you sleep, you may benefit from using a cervical roll in your pillow. This low-cost (about $20) foam roll slides into your pillowcase and supports your neck while you sleep.

For Hip and Knee Pain

If you have hip and knee pain, your therapist will likely prescribe exercises to strengthen the muscles that support those joints. Exercises may include:

  • Single leg bridges
  • Straight leg raises
  • Lateral band walking
  • Ball squats

Resistance bands may be used to challenge the muscles around your lower extremities. Often, balance exercises are performed in the PT clinic, and these may be mimicked at home. You may benefit from obtaining a balance board to perform advanced balance exercises for your hip or knee pain.

When to Visit a Physical Therapist

The best time to visit a physical therapist is if you are feeling pain, have had surgery, have been injured, or are experiencing a loss of functional mobility. If you are having trouble doing your normal work and activities, then working with a physical therapist is a good idea.

Performing rehab on your own at home may be one option, but nothing can beat the knowledge, expertise, and motivation that a skilled physical therapist can offer.

If the cost of therapy is a concern, mention this to your therapist. They can often find the right things for you to be doing at home and can help you get the right PT supplies to keep your self-care program moving forward.

You may benefit from working at home and regularly checking in with your therapist to advance your program and ensure you are on track for a full recovery.

Summary

Having some physical therapy equipment at home may be just what you need to get moving again. Equipment varies depending on where your injury is and how much you are willing to spend.

Some more affordable options include resistance bands, stretching straps, lumbar rolls, and kinesiology tape. More expensive options include cervical traction and commercial-level tools. Your therapist can help you determine which pieces of equipment would be most beneficial for you to have at home.

A Word From Verywell

If you are injured or have had surgery and require physical therapy, you may benefit from performing self-care treatments and exercises at home. This can help speed your recovery.

Sometimes, using physical therapy equipment and supplies at home may be an option to perform these self-care treatments. Finding affordable PT supplies and using them properly can save you trips to the PT clinic and, in turn, save you money.

Your physical therapist should be able to help you find the best PT equipment for home use and can teach you how to use it. That way, you can do independent rehab to quickly and safely recover to your previous level of function.

Frequently Asked Questions

What equipment do physical therapists use?

Physical therapists use a variety of tools to help their patients. Things like canes or braces may help you walk better, and kinesiology tape may help your muscles contract properly. Massage tools, like foam rollers, may be used to keep your muscles flexible, and resistance bands and small weights can make strengthening exercises harder.

How affordable is physical therapy equipment?

The commercial-grade equipment that your therapist uses in the PT clinic may be quite expensive, often costing hundreds of dollars. But many supplies and pieces of PT equipment are available for purchase as home use devices, and these tend to be more affordable. Keep in mind that home devices are often not of the top-notch quality that professional grade equipment is.

What equipment do I need for physical therapy at home? 

The type of equipment you need at home depends on your diagnosis and your specific situation. Most therapists prescribe a home exercise program for their patients. You may benefit from having things to exercise with like a yoga mat, a stretching strap, and resistance bands or cuff weights.

More specialized items like foam rollers or lumbar rolls are not for everyone, so ask your therapist which piece of equipment is most important for your recovery. Many pieces of PT equipment may be used to prevent future problems with your mobility as well.

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