Corrective Exercises


Providing a home exercise program (HEP) to patients is one of the most fundamental and important aspects of rehabilitation. Research has shown that patients who adhere to their prescribed exercises are significantly better at achieving their goals and demonstrate a greater increase in physical. 

Unfortunately, it has also been shown that, in general, patients adhere poorly to their prescribed home program, with varying estimations from research. Non-adherence to a home exercise program has been shown to be as high as 50-65% for general MSK conditions. In the low back pain patient population, non-adherence to home exercise has been shown to be as high as 50-70%. Another major issue with nonadherence is the importance of continuing with a prescribed exercise regime to decrease the risk of recurrent injury or flare-ups. Patients who do not comply with their prescribed exercises have shown to demonstrate less positive outcomes long term1. Non-adherence can also result in the Doctor believing that their current treatment is not effective and proceeding to unnecessarily modify their program. Overall, there is a need for good quality evidence to identify potential barriers to patient adherence and the strategies that are effective at combating those barriers.

Barriers to Home Exercise Program Adherence

Strong Level of Evidence

• Pain - worsening pain during a treatment session is associated with a barrier to a home exercise program
• Low levels of physical activity at baseline - patients who are not used to following a regular fitness program are less likely to incorporate a home exercise program into their schedule
• Low self-efficacy - self-efficacy refers to the patient’s belief that he/she will be successful in a particular situation or in accomplishing a goal. Self-efficacy can be identified by asking: "how confident are you that you can overcome obstacles to exercising?". Patients with low self-efficacy tend to have lower adherence rates 
• Anxiety or stress at baseline - strong predictor of poorer outcomes at long term follow ups
• Depression - lower levels of depression are correlated to a greater motivation to exercising
• High degree of helplessness - patients with higher levels of helplessness (i.e. patients who believe there is no escape from their long-standing pain) tend to exercise less than those with low feelings of helplessness
• Lack of social support - the absence of a strong support network can lead to lower levels of adherence to a HEP
• Enabling by family members - patients with overprotective families that discourage any activity that may cause discomfort are more likely to be less active and less adherent to a HEP
• Barriers to exercise - perceiving greater barriers to exercise is associated with poorer adherence. Such barriers include transportation problems, child care needs, work schedules, lack of time, family dependents, financial constraints, convenience and forgetting
• High levels of neuroticism - neuroticism is a personality trait that is associated with anxiety, fear, worry, envy, frustration, depressed mood and a reduced ability to cope with stressors. High levels of neuroticism were associated with withdrawal from responsibilities and decreased goal achievement
• Therapeutic alliance - patients who perceive a positive relationship with their physiotherapist on factors of productivity, communication and trust are more likely to adhere to their home exercise program

Moderate Level of Evidence

• Health focus of control - there are three factors that contribute to a person’s focus of control:

1. Internal - the belief that individuals are responsible for their own outcomes
2. Chance - outcomes are a result of luck or chance
3. Powerful others - individuals with higher authority are responsible for the individual’s outcomes

Patients with higher levels of an internal focus of control adhere better to home exercise programs. Patients with higher internal focus of control are more likely to report lower levels of pain and to return to work/vocational activities quicker. Patients with lower internal focus of control believe that they have little control over their own situation and have been shown to be less adherent to a HEP

Limited Level of Evidence

• Higher disability level - disability level was evaluated using The Low Back Pain Disability Index, a 10 item questionnaire identifying pain and activity limitations, where higher scores are associated with higher levels of disability. Patients who scored higher on this questionnaire were more likely to adhere to a HEP
• Lower motivation - although motivation is often correlated with treatment outcome, research has so far failed to show a clear relationship between motivation level and adherence to HEP

Conflicting Evidence

• Greater pain at baseline - it is unclear whether greater pain at baseline serves as a motivating factor or a barrier to exercise adherence
• Age - currently there is conflicting evidence on whether older patients tend to adhere more or less to an exercise program than younger patients. Older patients may be generally less mobile than younger patients and may perceive the prescribed exercises as requiring more energy. On the other hand, younger patients have to juggle busy schedules, while older patients may have more time to engage in their HEP
• Low levels of optimism - although low levels of optimism are associated with withdrawal from goal pursuits there is no clear evidence that it results in decreased adherence

Strategies to increase home program adherence

There is minimal available evidence for the effectiveness of current strategies to increase HEP adherence. It is interesting to note that one systematic review has identified strong evidence for computerized technology not being more effective at improving HEP adherence compared to other strategies. The following is a list of strategies that are currently used by physiotherapists. Further research is required to evaluate each strategy’s effect on patient adherence to their HEP and the resulting outcomes:

Patient Education

• Educating patients on pain versus harm by explaining the nature of pain and nociception and suspending the belief that pain is an indicator of further tissue damage
• Reinforcing messages which reduce fear or anxiety about pain 
• Emphasizing the idea that exercise will lead to less pain, anxiety, and depression 
• Countering maladaptive coping strategies 
• Employing motivational techniques such as counseling, positive feedback and outcome measures that will highlight progress in order to increase a patient's self-efficacy
• Managing expectations by educating patients on tissue healing timelines, their prognosis and the importance of their own involvement in their treatment plan 
• Providing a cognitive behavioral program aimed to enhance self-efficacy and reduce perception of barriers
• Motivational interviewing to set personal treatment goals


• Minimizing pain during a treatment session/home exercise program. Using pain reducing modalities such as heat/ice, TENS/IFC as well as manual therapy techniques may be useful in alleviating pain during treatment. This may encourage patients to keep performing their exercises knowing that their pain will be alleviated
• Utilizing graduated exercise - to reduce anxiety and fear avoidance exercises should be progressed slowly and gradually to increase patients’ confidence in their own physical abilities 
• Providing explicit verbal instructions when introducing a new exercise program, checking a patient's ability to recall as well as providing written instructions 
• Encouraging patients to keep exercise logs, diaries, logs to track their progress, symptoms, etc 
• Reviewing exercise and symptom logs at every treatment

Personalized Approach

• Tailoring exercise program demands to the patient. For example, proposing an extensive cardio and strength program for patients who are inactive at baseline would be ineffective. Instead, patients should be introduced to regular exercise in small steps that they feel confident they can manage
• Participating in tele-rehabilitation in the form of email support or telephone support 
• Providing patients with pictures and videos of themselves performing the prescribed exercises 
• Establishing a personalized treatment contract negotiated and agreed upon with the patient 
• Referring patients to the appropriate specialist for their depression or anxiety 
• Introducing patients to group exercise classes to increase their supportive network and boost their confidence 

Measurements of Home Program Adherence

• Most studies utilize report diaries as a measure of adherence to a home program. Limitations of this measure include poor completion rates, inaccurate recall and self-presentation bias. Measuring adherence can be viewed as an intervention in and of itself as it might result in more patients adhering to their exercise program as they are forced to record it in a diary
• Other measures that are currently available include: computer programs, phone applications and wearable technology (e.g. pedometers)
• A systematic review by Bollen et al (2014) identified 58 studies reporting on 61 measures of self-reported adherence to a home exercise program. Most of the identified measures lacked any psychometric validation. 
• Future research is required to develop validated tools to identify patient adherence and barriers to adherence. Better understanding of their patients’ barriers to fully comply with the proposed program will allow clinicians to choose proper interventions to counteract the negative effects of non-adherence
• The following is a sample of tools available to estimate patient adherence

1. Sport Injury Rehabilitation Adherence Scale (SIRAS)- 3-item scale completed by the therapist 
2. Hopkins Rehabilitation Engagement Rating Scale (HREPS)- 5-item questionnaire completed by the health professional in an acute inpatient setting.
3. Adherence to Exercise Scale for Older Patients (AESOP)- patient completed 43-item questionnaire 
4. The Modified Rehabilitation Adherence Questionnaire (RAQ-M)- 25-item scale to evaluate potential barriers to patient adherence


This article by Bollen et al (2014) cites 58 studies reporting on 61 measures of self-reported adherence, thus the measures can be determined through using the reference list. 


1. Jack K, McLean SM, Moffett JK, Gardiner E. Barriers to treatment adherence in physiotherapy outpatient clinics: A systematic review. Manual Therapy, 2010, 15: 220–228
2. Di Fabio RP, Mackey G, Holte JB. Disability and functional status in patients with low back pain receiving workers' compensation: a descriptive study with implications for the efficacy of physical therapy. Physical Therapy. 1995 Mar 1;75(3):180-93.
3. Pinto BM, Rabin C, Dunsiger S. Home‐based exercise among cancer survivors: adherence and its predictors. Psycho‐Oncology: Journal of the Psychological, Social and Behavioral Dimensions of Cancer. 2009 Apr;18(4):369-76
4. Karnad P, McLean S. Physiotherapists’ perceptions of patient adherence to home exercises in chronic musculoskeletal rehabilitation. International Journal of Physiotherapy. 2011 Jun;1(2):14-29
5. Beinart NA, Goodchild CE, Weinman JA, Ayis S, Godfrey EL. Individual and intervention-related factors associated with adherence to home exercise in chronic low back pain: a systematic review. The Spine Journal, 2013, 13:1940–195
6. Bassett SF. The assessment of patient adherence to physiotherapy rehabilitation. NZ J Physiother, 2003, 31: 60–66
7. Wright BJ, Galtieri NJ, Fell M. Non-adherence to prescribed home rehabilitation exercises for musculoskeletal injuries: the role of the patient- practitioner relationship. J Rehabil Med, 2014, 46: 153–158
8. Miss Massey. Barriers To Exercise Adherence. Available from:

[last accessed 30/08/2016]
9. Gaikwada SB, Mukherjee T, Shahb PV, Ambodeb OI, Johnson EG, Dahera NS. Home exercise program adherence strategies in vestibular rehabilitation: a systematic review. Phys Ther Rehabil Sci, 2016, 5(2), 53-62
10. McLean SM, Burton M, Bradley L, Littlewood C. Interventions for enhancing adherence with physiotherapy: A systematic review. Manual Therapy, 2010 15: 514-521
11. TED Talks. Cosmin Mihaiu: Physical therapy is boring — play a game instead. Available from:

[last accessed 30/08/2016]
12. ELLICSR: Health, Wellness and Cancer Survivorship Centre. Dr. Paul Ritvo on How Cancer Survivors Adhere to an Exercise Program and Why: WE-Can Program. Available from:

[last accessed 30/08/2016]
13. Bollen JC, Dean SG, Siegert RJ, Howe TE, Goodwin VA. A systematic review of measures of self-reported adherence to unsupervised home-based rehabilitation exercise programs, and their psychometric properties. BMJ Open, 2014, 4: 1-7

14. McLean S, Holden M, Haywood K, Potia T, Gee M, Mallett R, Bhanbhro S. Recommendations for exercise adherence measures in musculoskeletal settings: a systematic review and consensus meeting. Project Report. Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. 2014. 

Home Exercises that we often prescribe at Vitality Spine + Health include Cervical Denneroll, Pro-Lordotic neck extensions and updating patients pillows with Tri-Core pillows.  (Include links to these??)


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