Why is Physical Therapy So Hard? Finding Ways to Increase Your Motivation

Finding Your “Why”

Staying motivated to continue exercising can be fatiguing.  Especially when that exercise involves recovery from an injury or surgery. As few as 35 percent of patients adhere to their physical therapy regimens at home. While it may seem like “extra” work, the at-home exercises can be even more important than the time you spend with during your physical therapy sessions. Here are a few ways you can help yourself tackle your physical therapy exercises at home. 

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

There are two different types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation happens when you do something because you genuinely enjoy it, like playing an instrument. Extrinsic motivation occurs when you do something because of the reward you expect to get from it, like working.  Many physical therapy patients approach therapy from an extrinsic point of view. While this will get you through the exercises, it won’t be as effective as shifting your mindset to finding something about the process you enjoy. This can be a tough change, but finding something about the exercises you like can make the process much more enjoyable, and ultimately more successful. 

Self-Determination Theory

Psychologists have suggested that self-determination theory consists of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations that exist on a continuum and that results are best when long-lasting intrinsic needs are met. Moreover, for motivation to materialize, there are three basic psychological needs that must be met: 

  • Autonomy: As a patient, you have to decide you want to be in therapy. No amount of coercion from your doctor or family can make you better. Ultimately, you have to choose therapy for yourself for it to be helpful.
  • Competence: As a patient, you want to know that the exercises are leading you to overall success. Knowing that each step in the recovery process is helpful towards the overall goal. Rombot has an arsenal of resources ready for your perusing! 
  • Relatedness: As a patient, this could be your connection with your physical therapist or others going through similar therapy. At Rombot, you have the ability to find the physical therapist that works with you, at your fingertips

Self-Determination Theory in Practice: Four ways to find motivation that works for you

  • Find your purpose: As we said, finding your why to help you get through your PT exercises makes you more successful. What about your recovery is holding you back? What would you like to do that you can’t do now due to physical limitations? Set your sights on that goal! And know that YOU are choosing what happens during these sessions. 
  • Find your accountability buddy: Many people find PT discouraging. A lot of making PT the best it can be is finding the right physical therapist. Rombot makes this easy! Finding a physical therapist that motivates you and incentivizes you to keep going is your best chance for success. 
  • Be honest, with yourself AND your physical therapist: Consistency makes PT successful. If you aren’t doing your exercises at home, and you aren’t being honest with your physical therapist, this process won’t work. It only benefits you to tell them the truth, so they can meet you where you are and help you get to where you’re going. 
  • Maximize your time: One of the biggest challenges for most PT goers is lack of time or perceived lack of time. Try to add your PT to another part of your routine so it doesn’t feel as jarring to your schedule. For example, if you routinely workout, try to sprinkle those exercises in between other exercises and circuits so it becomes a habit. Maybe take a 5 minute break to tackle one of the exercises during your lunch break; the truth is, you don’t have to do all the exercises at once. If you’re data driven, you might find using an app really helpful for tracking your goals and seeing your progress!

Rombot has all the tools and expertise to help you keep moving. Download the app to find out more!


  1. Miller, A. M. (2015, August 31). 4 Ways to Stick to Your Physical Therapy ‘Homework’. Retrieved May 18, 2020, from https://health.usnews.com/health-news/patient-advice/articles/2015/08/31/4-ways-to-stick-to-your-physical-therapy-homework
  2. How to Motivate Patients as a Physical Therapist. (n.d.). Retrieved May 18, 2020, from https://www.exercise.com/learn/how-to-motivate-patients-as-a-physical-therapist/ 
  3. Admin. (2019, March 12). Ways to Stay Motivated with your Physical Therapy Exercises. Retrieved May 18, 2020, from http://publichealthalert.info/ways-to-stay-motivated-with-your-physical-therapy-exercises/
  4. Ackerson, C. E. (2020, April 23). Self-Determination Theory of Motivation: Why Intrinsic Motivation Matters. Retrieved May 18, 2020, from https://positivepsychology.com/self-determination-theory/