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ADVANCE Perspective: Physical Therapy & Rehab Medicine

Maintaining Motivation in Physical Therapy

Published April 29, 2010 9:14 AM by Cheryl McEvoy

Why don't physical therapists get mad? Because they have a lot of patients!

Bad joke, I know, but it's kind of true. Physical therapy is a long and often frustrating process, for both the patient and the practitioner, so any of you bearing the Bosu ball must have a certain degree of mental stamina.

But how do you maintain that same steadfastness in patients? A recent study found that self-motivation is a key contributor in successful weight loss programs; obese individuals who kept a go-get-‘em attitude actually had better results. But when the pounds don't come off--or, say, 3 weeks of therapy yield barely a toe curl--there's a risk of getting discouraged. We like to see results, and see them fast; that whole "worth the wait" idiom doesn't work when the "wait" is a year or two.

Fortunately, there's always hope. Even in Haiti, patients are finding reasons to get out of bed and back on foot. This week's Top Story, "A PT in Haiti," highlights some inspiring patients who, despite having limited resources, were eager to regain mobility. (The PT even got crafty with a lawn chair.) What makes their motivation all the more impressive is the fact that rehabilitation has previously been non-existent in Haiti. According to one article, Haitian culture typically frowns upon disability, so there's been little cause for physical therapy services. In light of the disaster, however, patients are finding acceptance--and within that, strength.

Contrast that with a new study that found Canadian kids are too sedentary. A little more than a third of 2-3 year olds get unorganized physical activity each week, and less than half of preschoolers get 90 minutes of activity per day. Corresponding with that inactivity, TVs are being introduced at younger ages, which means they just won't get off their duff. The results are frightening, but with the current obesity epidemic in this country, I doubt our kids fare much better.

So there you have it: two very different takes on motivation. Does it have something to do with overcoming obstacles vs. coasting comfortably? Perhaps. The important thing, as physical therapists, is to get them all going.

How do you keep patients motivated? When it comes to a long recovery process, do you find patience is a virtue?

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