Even More Ways to Progress Any Rehabilitation Exercise, Task or Activity
Published: 30 July 2017
Published: 30 July 2017
The occupation of physiotherapy takes more than a decent set of clinical skills and a good set of hands. It takes intuition. It takes the ability to sort through data and create a clinical picture. It requires clinical decision-making. But most of all, it takes the willingness to push past natural barriers and to boldly go where no man has gone before! (…Well – let’s stick within anatomical limitations and known physiologic capacity for the human species, at this stage.)
But we all fall into ruts. It’s human nature to continue to do what we have always donewhich is why it is useful to look for paradigms that can be used to actively promote skilled care. In a classic 2004 article in the Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy, PT author Fell offered clinicians 13 simple yet comprehensive methods to complicate or simplify any exercise, task or activity.
These 13 methods of progression have survived (and flourished during) the passage of time. They offer clinicians a clear decision-making pathway on how to progress any exercise, task or activity.
The first 6 methods (covered in Part 1 of this article) are as follows:
In this article, we will focus on 7 additional ways to bring skilled progression of care to the forefront.
One of the easiest adjustments to make in therapy is to alter some factor in the environment. There is almost no limiting factor to the number of variation that this method provides. Environmental progression can be accomplished by modifying any component of the surrounding conditions. For example, a patient working in a pool setting is subject to an astonishing number of opportunities for novelty. In water, the therapist can easily increase (or decrease) auditory, visual, proprioceptive, vestibular, and tactile information. The depth can be changed. The position (supine, prone, seated, standing, four-point) can be changed, as can be the water temperature, the turbulence of the surrounding water, the amount of acceleration provided, and the number of prepubescent children doing poorly-executed cannonballs into the pool.
Environmental progression typically goes from “typical surroundings” to novelty. This can be done by altering the terrain, removing visual cues, or by increasing the number of people present. Environmental progression should be carefully controlled so as not to engender a sense of failure by asking a patient to perform a task with too many variables; and yet, the environment must not remain static. It is important to allow movement errors.
A regional approach to progression includes a purposeful shift of focus from one anatomical region or area to another. One example is a focus on proximal muscle groups prior to distal muscle groups, which has been described as a common pattern for return of function following cerebrovascular accident, depending on the location of the cerebral lesion. It is also possible to focus on one muscle group (say the pelvic muscles) in order to effect a functional task, such as walking.
Another method of progression popular in rehab circles is the use of a deliberate developmental sequencing, similar to the steps an infant or toddler experiences. A typical developmental progression will start in prone with rolling and crawling. It will progress to prone on elbows, a prone pressup, to quadruped, to creeping then kneeling, half-kneeling, and so forth. Therapists use this sequencing concept naturally when they teach sitting balance prior to standing balance. Creeping, rolling from supine to prone, and crawling may seem irrelevant to geriatric populations, but these are valuable component parts to everyday life. Tasks such as climbing a ladder, rolling out of bed, and getting up off the floor require the same movement skills.
Progression of velocity of movement implies that the speed of movement or the overall speed of a functional task is altered as the rehabilitation progresses. Usually the patient progresses from slower to faster movements. Walking speed, often referred to as the sixth vital sign, is highly predictive of outcome and can even be used to predict success or failure after discharge. Of course, faster isn’t always better. For some activities, a faster pace merely produces counter-productive compensatory and overflow patterns.
Progression of amplitude implies that the therapist intentionally asks the patient to change the magnitude of movement of an isolated muscle or in a task. Typically, this manifests as a simple increase in the arc or scope of movement; however, this concept can also be applied when working with patient who move in synergies and can initially only create large gross motor movements. By dampening the patient’s mass synergies, the arc or scope of movement may actually decrease, but the difficulty of the task increases.
The total amount of work produced by the patient during therapy can be progressed over time. This can be accomplished by increasing the total number of repetitions, increasing the duration of the task, decreasing the rest period, or increasing the intensity of the exercise (by lengthening the lever, increasing the weight used, etc.).
Endurance activities, such as those often chosen for patients with cardiac or respiratory conditions, are performed with less intensity and/or relative power of the task than would be used for strengthening. The focus here is on teaching the patient to do a slow-burn of energy and to tap into aerobic pathways of ATP-creation. Endurance is most often addressed by gradually increasing the duration of a task or activity. It is also possible to elongate the distance travelled to work on endurance. Exercises which emphasize endurance rarely tip the patient over their first ventilatory threshold and do not create an unrecoverable oxygen debt. In other words, they are sustainable.
Sometimes, patients are frail or cognitively impaired and exercises need to be simplified or dialed back. Other times, it’s necessary to pull out all the stops, to push to the point of failure. Either way, the therapist who continuously strives towards PROGRESSION will be able to offer their patient the best of both worlds.
Andrea Salzman, MS, PT graduated from the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a Master’s degree in physical therapy in 1992. Over the last two decades, she has held numerous prominent leadership roles in the physical therapy field, with a heavy emphasis on academic writing and administrative functions. Between 1995 and 1998, Salzman served as the Editor-in-Chief of an American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) journal. In 2010, Salzman received one of the highest honors given to a physical therapist from the American Physical Therapy Association, the Judy Cirullo Leadership Award. Between 2012 and the present, Salzman has written 12 physical therapy courses for Care2Learn, Relias Learning and reviewed over 100 other course offerings. Currently, Salzman continues in her writing, leadership and administrative roles at Aquatic Therapy University and 10K Health. See Educator Profile