7 Household Items You Can Use to Exercise

What to Use for Your Physical Therapy Home Exercise Program

Woman exercising at home
You can use just about anything at home to do your PT exercises.. Tetra Images/Getty Images

If you have an injury, illness, or have had surgery that causes a loss of functional mobility, you may benefit from the skilled services of a physical therapist to help you restore normal mobility. Your PT will assess your specific condition and prescribe treatments and exercises to help you restore your range of motion (ROM), strength, and mobility.

One important component of any physical therapy plan of care is a home exercise program—the exercises you do independently to help you return to your previous level of activity. Your PT will likely prescribe a few exercises that target the specific impairments that are limiting your mobility.

In a typical PT clinic, there are exercise machines and weights to help you build strength and improve flexibility. But what can you do at home when exercising? What if you don't have free weights or fancy machines to help you stretch and strengthen your body?

You can find common household items that you can use while performing your independent home exercise program. Your physical therapist can make recommendations for things that you can use while exercising.

Follow this step-by-step program to learn about the common household items that you may be able to use while exercising to help you complete your home exercise program.

Remember to check in with your doctor or physical therapist before starting this, or any other, home exercise program.

Use a Hand Towel for Grip Strength

Some conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome may cause weakness in your wrist or hands. Keeping the muscles around your wrists and fingers strong is important to maintain normal handgrip function.

Using a small hand towel is a simple way that you can strengthen the muscles around your wrists and hands. To do it, simply roll up a hand towel until it is about 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Grip the hand towel lightly, and hold your grip for 3 seconds. Slowly release your grip. Repeat the towel hand gripping exercise for 10 to 15 repetitions.

Use Rubber Bands for Finger Exercises

What do you do with all of those rubber bands that come to the house with the morning newspaper? Place them in a drawer? Throw them away?

You can use a rubber band to help strengthen your finger muscles. Keeping your finger muscles, specifically your finger extensors, strong can keep your hands functioning properly. (Your finger extensors help to straighten your fingers and open up your hand.)

To do finger exercises with a rubber band, simply place the elastic band around your fingers and thumb. Spread out your fingers and thumb until the stretch on the rubber band places resistance through your fingers. Hold the stretched position for a couple seconds, and then slowly relax.

You can use a rubber band to improve your ability to spread your fingers apart, a motion called finger abduction. Simply place the band around two fingers, and spread them apart until the elastic stretches and creates resistance between your fingers. Hold the position for a couple seconds, and then relax.

Of course, the amount of resistance created by the elastic will vary depending on the size and thickness of the rubber band, so try experimenting with a few different bands to find the perfect rubber band for your finger exercises.

Use a Hammer for Wrist Strengthening

If you are experiencing weakness around your wrists or elbows, your PT may prescribe specific wrist strengthening exercises. These exercises may require the use of weights to provide resistance.

One wrist exercise, the forearm pronation and supination exercise, can be performed with a hammer. To do this, hold a hammer in one hand while your forearm is resting on a table. Slowly roll your hand over so your palm is facing down, and then return to the starting position. Then, roll your hand over the other way so your palm is facing up.

Remember to move your wrist and forearm with slow, deliberate movements. You can vary the amount of resistance of the exercise by holding the hammer closer or further from the end of the tool; holding the end of the hammer's handle increases the difficulty of the exercise. Holding the hammer closer to the head makes the exercise easier.

Perform the hammer wrist and forearm exercise for 10 to 15 repetitions.

Use Silly Putty for Handgrip and Finger Exercises

Image of elderly woman receiving hand physical therapy with putty.
Your physical therapist can teach you hand and finger exercises that you can do with therapy putty.. Pamela Moore/Getty Images

If you are having trouble gripping items or carrying things in your hand, you may benefit from working to improve your grip strength and finger strength. Putty handgrip and finger exercises may be prescribed by your physical therapist. The exercises are easy to do in the clinic with special therapy putty, but how can you replicate the exercises at home?

Simple. Purchase a bit of Silly Putty and use it to perform your hand and finger exercises. Your physical therapist can show you which exercises are best for your specific condition. If you do not wish to buy Silly Putty, or if you are feeling adventurous, you can make your own Silly Putty at home.

Use a Bath Towel to Stretch

Use a towel to bring the arm behind the back to stretch the shoulder.
A towel can be used to stretch the shoulder and rotator cuff tendons.. Brett Sears, PT, 2012

If you have shoulder pain, rotator cuff tendonitis, or frozen shoulder, you may benefit from working to improve your shoulder's range of motion (ROM). Your physical therapist may prescribe exercises to stretch your shoulder at home, and one exercise may be the shoulder internal rotation stretch.

The shoulder rotation stretch is done with a bath towel. To perform the exercise, hold a long towel in one hand over your shoulder and allow it to drape behind your back. Reach behind your back with your other hand and grip the towel. Gently pull the towel up your back until a stretch is felt in your shoulder.

Hold the stretch for 10 to 15 seconds, and repeat it for 10 repetitions.

Use Soup Cans as Weights

Image of canned veggies and soup.
You can hold soup cans to provide resistance to your shoulder exercises.. Neo Vision/Getty Images

There are many causes of shoulder pain, and sometimes weakness in your shoulder or rotator cuff may be one variable that is causing your shoulder to hurt. After shoulder surgery, like a rotator cuff or labrum repair, you may need to work on strengthening your shoulders during your rehabilitation.

You can use soup cans at home to work on improving your shoulder strength. To do this, simply find a couple soup cans in the back of the pantry and perform specific rotator cuff AROM exercises while holding the cans. You can also work on scapular stabilization exercises while holding the soup cans. If you don't have soup cans, you can use bottled water, cans of beans, or soda cans.

Perform your shoulder exercises with the soup cans for 10 to 15 repetitions, but make sure you check in with your PT before starting resisted shoulder and rotator cuff exercises.

Use a Coffee Can or Basketball to Strengthen Your Quads

If you have knee pain or have had surgery on your knee or hip, your physical therapist may prescribe exercises to help strengthen the muscles around your knee. The quadriceps muscles cross the knee joint and help straighten your knees. After a knee injury or surgery, restoring normal function to these muscles is essential to returning to your previous level of activity.

One exercise that your PT may prescribe is called the short arc quad (SAQ) exercise. To perform this exercise, you will need to find something to use as a bolster under your knee.

The easiest way to perform the SAQ exercise is to find a basketball or coffee can to use as a bolster under your knee. Simply place the ball or coffee can under your knee while you are lying down on your back. Straighten your knee as far as possible, and tighten your quadriceps muscle on the top of your thigh. Hold the straightened position for a few seconds, and then slowly lower your leg down. Keep your knee against the ball or coffee can the entire time during the SAQ exercise.

Performing your home exercise program as prescribed by your physical therapist may mean the difference between a mediocre outcome and a superior outcome in physical therapy. By getting creative and finding household items to use while exercising, you can be sure to restore your normal strength and mobility quickly and safely, so you can get back to the things you enjoy doing.

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