Nine Physical Therapy Exercises You Can Do at Home

Combat aches and pains with these helpful physical therapy exercises

Reviewed by: Joie Flees, PT, MS, OCS, Cert. MDT, and Justin Nykiel, DPT, PT, MS
Written by: Lauryn Feil

Social distancing, sheltering-in-place, self-isolating, however you’re helping slow the spread of COVID-19, it likely means you’re spending most of your time indoors at home. And home is where the couch, bed, and not-so-ergonomic chairs and tables live. So by now, you may be experiencing some aches and pains that come along with what has become a VERY sedentary lifestyle.

Physical therapy is a treatment method typically designed for patients before or after surgery to help restore function and movement while also promoting healing and pain relief. It can help patients of all ages with medical conditions, illnesses, or injuries that limit their abilities to function normally. It also helps encourage active and healthy lifestyle changes to improve overall health and well-being. But, even if you’re not scheduled for surgery or healing from an injury, incorporating stretching and strengthening movements into your daily routine can really help relax tense muscles, reduce aches, and make you feel better overall.

UT Health Austin physical therapists Joie Flees, PT, MS, OCS, Cert. MDT, and Justin Nykiel, DPT, PT, MS, in the Musculoskeletal Institute have compiled a list of helpful physical therapy exercises you can do at home on your own to combat some of the most typical muscle and joint aches you may be feeling right now.

Benefits of physical therapy include:

  • Strengthens and stretches muscles and joints
  • Aids in the recovering from or prevention of sports-related injuries
  • Aids in the recovering from a major surgery
  • Helps manage age-related issues such as arthritis
  • Improves overall function and mobility
  • Improves outcomes by helping you reach your goals and return to your daily activities


Stretching


Hamstring Stretch

Step 1

Lie on your back, raise your left leg, clasp your hands around the back of your left thigh, pull your knee close to your chest.

Step 2

Keeping your knee near your chest, slowly straighten your left knee until you feel a stretch on the back of your left thigh. (It is OK if you don’t get your knee fully straight, as long as you feel a good stretch.) Hold for 30-45 seconds, repeat the stretch on the opposite side.

Piriformis Stretch

Step 1

Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Cross the right ankle over the left knee.

Step 2

Clasp your hands around your left thigh, pull your left thigh/knee toward your chest. You should feel the stretch around the right buttock, hip, and back of thigh. Hold for 30-45 seconds, repeat the stretch on the opposite side.

Standing Hip Flexor

Step 1

Stand facing a bench (or high step or sturdy chair), both feet pointing forward. Place your left foot up on the bench, with your foot planted past your knee (angle of knee bend is more than 90 degrees).

Step 2

Slowly shift your weight forward toward the foot on the bench, until you feel some stretch on the front of the right hip (you may also feel some stretch in your right calf). Hold for 30-45 seconds, repeat the stretch on the opposite side.

Strengthening


Straight Leg Raise

Step 1

Lie on your back, bend your right knee, keep your left foot planted.

Step 2

Point the toes of your left foot toward the ceiling, slowly lift your left leg (keeping your left knee straight) to about 45 degrees, then slowly lower back to the floor, feel the front of the thigh muscles working throughout the movement. 10-20 repetitions, repeat on the opposite side.

Bridge

Step 1

Lie on your back, knees bent, feet close to buttocks and a little wider than hip distance apart.

Step 2

Squeeze your gluteal muscles to slowly raise the pelvis up from the floor, keep your knees aligned over your ankles. Hold the top position 3-5 seconds, then slowly lower down to start position. 10-20 repetitions.

Clamshells

Step 1

Lie on your left side, bent arm supporting your head, knees bent to 90 degrees, knees and ankles stacked.

Step 2

Slowly raise the right knee from the left, keeping your ankles together (do not allow your pelvis to roll back or open), feel the effort in the right thigh/buttock. Slowly lower back to start position. 10-20 repetitions, repeat on the opposite side.

Posture Correcting


Cervical Retraction

Step 1

Start in a seated position with your shoulders pulled back and down.
Look straight forward.

Step 2

Tuck your chin in, resembling a double chin, hold this position 1-2 seconds
Try to bring your chin straight back, without moving your head downwards. Return to starting position and repeat 10 repetitions at a time.

Thoracic Extension

Step 1

Stand or sit up straight on a chair. Place your hands behind your head.

Step 2

While keeping your neck neutral, extend your upper back squeezing shoulder blades down and back. Hold this position 1-2 seconds. Return to starting position and repeat 10 repetitions at a time.

Lumbar Extension

Step 1

Stand up straight. Place your hands on your lower back.

Step 2

Slowly bend backwards as far as you comfortably can, focusing on arching your lower back. Hold this position for 1-2 seconds. Return to starting position and repeat 10 repetitions at a time.

About UT Health Austin

UT Health Austin, the group practice designed and managed by the faculty and staff of the Dell Medical School, focuses the expertise of a team of experienced medical professionals to deliver personalized, whole-person care of uncompromising quality. Our experienced healthcare professionals treat each patient as an individual, with unique circumstances, priorities and beliefs. Working with you, your care team creates an individualized care plan to help you reach the goals that matter most to you — in the care room, and beyond. For more information, call us at 1-833-UT-CARES or request an appointment here.