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What are physical therapy exercises

The following videos are designed to demonstrate exercises that were prescribed to you by your Cornell Health physical therapist.

Please follow the recommendations given to you by your physical therapist during your appointment(s). If any of the exercises cause you pain, or if you are unable to perform them correctly, please stop and speak with your physical therapist before proceeding.

Closed captioning: Real-time text transcription is available for these videos. Once you start a video, click on the “interactive transcript” button just below the video.

Ankle Strengthening exercises:

Lower Extremity Range of Motion



Lower Extremity Strengthening



Neural Glide exercises:

Scapular Strengthening



Shoulder Range of Motion



Shoulder Strengthening



Shoulder Strengthening with Bands



Spine Exercise



Stretching / Range of Motion exercises (other):


Physical therapy is a treatment method typically designed for patients before or after surgery to help restore function and movement while also promoting healing and pain relief. It can help patients of all ages with medical conditions, illnesses, or injuries that limit their abilities to function normally. It also helps encourage active and healthy lifestyle changes to improve overall health and well-being. But, even if you’re not scheduled for surgery or healing from an injury, incorporating stretching and strengthening movements into your daily routine can really help relax tense muscles, reduce aches, and make you feel better overall.

UT Health Austin physical therapists Joie Flees, PT, MS, OCS, Cert. MDT, and Justin Nykiel, DPT, PT, MS, in the Musculoskeletal Institute have compiled a list of helpful physical therapy exercises you can do at home on your own to combat some of the most typical muscle and joint aches you may be feeling right now.

Benefits of physical therapy include:

  • Strengthens and stretches muscles and joints
  • Aids in the recovering from or prevention of sports-related injuries
  • Aids in the recovering from a major surgery
  • Helps manage age-related issues such as arthritis
  • Improves overall function and mobility
  • Improves outcomes by helping you reach your goals and return to your daily activities

Physical Therapy Exercises

We are committed to helping people stay active and as pain-free as possible. Our physical therapists, in collaboration with our physicians, have put together information to guide you on exercises to alleviate pain, strengthen core areas, and keep you active. It is important to discuss your exercise plan with your provider before initiating any exercises.

Written Instructions with Pictures

Physical Therapy Videos Demonstrated by Dr. Lena

Below are a series of videos in which Dr. Christopher Lena and Physical Therapy Site Director Ryan Campbell demonstrate some common physical therapy stretches. Many of these can be done in the comfort of your home. Some exercises may require equipment such as a foam roller or ball.

Introduction to Physical Therapy

Hip and Lower Extremities

Stretching the Hamstring

Stretching Joints for Flexibility

Stretching lower extremities with foam roller

Strengthening exercises for hip and low back

Strengthening exercises for hip and core

Stability exercises with the ball

Wall Sits

Exercises for rotator cuff core and hip

Stretches for shoulders and upper chest


Physical Therapy Videos Demonstrated by Dr. Ware

Below are a series of videos in which Dr. J. Kristopher Ware and Physical Therapy Site Director Ryan Campbell demonstrate common physical therapy stretches.

Intro to Physical Therapy

Internal External Rotation

IT Band Stretch (supine)

Modified Squat

PNF D2 Diagonal Pattern

Prone Horizontal Abduction

Prone Horizontal Scaption

Prone Quad Stretch

Quadruped UE LE

Resisted Side Stepping

Rows with Scapular Retraction

Sidelying Clams

Step Up and Down

Straight Leg Raise

Supine Hamstring Stretch

Transverse Abdominus Brace with Marches

Transverse Abdominus Brace

Your doctor might suggest this type of treatment if you’ve had an injury or illness that makes it hard to do daily tasks.

Physical therapy (PT) is care that aims to ease pain and help you function, move, and live better. You may need it to:

  • Relieve pain
  • Improve movement or ability
  • Prevent or recover from a sports injury
  • Prevent disability or surgery
  • Rehab after a stroke, accident, injury, or surgery
  • Work on balance to prevent a slip or fall
  • Manage a chronic illness like diabetes, heart disease, or arthritis
  • Recover after you give birth
  • Control your bowels or bladder
  • Adapt to an artificial limb
  • Learn to use assistive devices like a walker or cane
  • Get a splint or brace

People of all ages benefit from physical therapy. It can treat a variety of health problems.

What Is a Physical Therapist?

These licensed health professionals engage in specific graduate training in physical therapy. You may hear them called PTs or physiotherapists.

As of 2016, to be eligible to sit for the national exam, you need to graduate from an accredited higher educational institution with a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. An additional state exam must also be passed to earn a license.  

Physical therapists evaluate your condition and develop a care plan that guides your therapy. They may perform hands-on treatments for your symptoms. They also teach you special exercises to help you move and function better.

In most states, you can go directly to a physical therapist without a referral from your doctor. Or your doctor might prescribe it. Check your insurance policy to see if you need a prescription to cover the cost.

If you have a serious illness or injury, a PT won’t take the place of other doctors, but they will work with your doctors and other health care professionals to guide treatments. You’ll feel better and you’ll be more likely to get back full function in the area being treated, and in most cases, faster than without the guidance of a PT.

 PTs often have assistants. They’re also trained to do many types of physical treatments.

Walking (ambulation)—independently or with assistance—may be the main goal of rehabilitation. Before starting ambulation exercises, people must be able to balance while standing. To improve balance, people usually hold onto parallel bars and shift weight from side to side and from front to back. To keep them safe, the therapist stands in front of or behind them. Some people need to improve a joint’s range of motion or muscle strength before they start ambulation exercises. Some people need an orthotic device such as a brace.

Did You Know…

  • For people who have difficulty walking, learning to safely move from bed to a chair or from a wheelchair to a toilet can help them live independently.

When people are ready for ambulation exercises, they may begin on parallel bars, then progress to walking with mechanical aids, such as a walker, crutches, or a cane. Some people need to wear an assistive belt, which the therapist uses to prevent them from falling.

As soon as people can walk safely on a level surface, they may be taught how to step over curbs or to climb stairs. When climbing up stairs, they are instructed to step up with the unaffected leg first. To climb down stairs, they are instructed to step down with the affected leg first. The phrase “good is up, bad is down” can help people remember. Family members and caregivers who help people walk should learn how to support them correctly.

Helping a Person Walk

Helping a Person Walk

If a person needs support while walking, family members or caregivers can place their arm under the person’s arm and gently grasp the forearm. Then they should lock their arm, pressing their upper arm firmly against the person’s upper arm. Thus, if the person starts to fall, support is provided at the person’s shoulder. The person may wear a special belt that caregivers can grasp from the back, if needed, to steady the person.

If you have been referred to physical therapy after an injury or an illness, then you may have questions about what will happen. Most people visit a physical therapist because they are experiencing pain or difficulty with normal functional mobility. Your physical therapist may prescribe treatments and exercises to help you move better and feel better. One of the best ways to improve your overall mobility is with physical therapy exercises.

A woman holding a hand weight in a class


Therapeutic exercise should be one of the main treatments you receive from your physical therapist. It doesn’t matter if you are in a hospital, nursing home, school, or an outpatient orthopedic clinic. Physical therapists are movement experts, and exercise should be the primary tool your PT uses to get you moving better and feeling better.

When your physical therapist prescribes exercises for you to do, they should be considered as specific movement strategies to help your body change and grow in a positive way. The exercises you do in physical therapy are designed for your specific condition and are an integral part of your rehab program.

Should exercise be the only treatment you receive in physical therapy? Not necessarily. Some physical therapists use other techniques like massage, joint mobilizations, or modalities—like ultrasound or electrical stimulation—to help their patients move better and feel better. While passive treatments may feel good, they should not be the only treatment you get in physical therapy. There should always be an active component to your rehab program which includes various types of therapeutic physical therapy exercises.

Types of Physical Therapy Exercises

There are different types of physical therapy exercises that may be prescribed for you depending on your specific condition. These exercises may include:

  • exercises to improve strength
  • exercises to improve range of motion
  • flexibility exercises
  • balance and proprioception exercises
  • functional mobility exercises
  • cardiorespiratory exercises
  • exercises for vertigo and dizziness

A physical therapy exercise program should be tailored for your specific needs. For example, if you are having difficulty walking after a total knee replacement surgery, your physical therapist may assess your quadriceps function and prescribe specific exercises to help improve the strength of this muscle group.

Your physical therapist may use certain tools and pieces of equipment for your PT exercises. These may include:

  • foam rollers
  • resistance bands
  • therapy balls
  • free weights and dumbbells
  • treadmills, bikes, or an upper body bike
  • balance and wobble boards
  • towels and straps

The type of equipment you use depends upon the specific exercises you are doing and the goals of each exercise. Sometimes, no special equipment is necessary for your PT exercise.

Exercises are typically done in the physical therapy clinic, but they can also be done in the hospital while you are lying in bed or sitting up in a chair. Your physical therapist may visit you in the hospital and work on improving functional mobility—like moving in bed or climbing stairs—so you can safely go home. One component of this in-hospital rehab program may be to complete physical therapy exercises.

Your physical therapist may also prescribe exercises for you to do as part of a home exercise program. This program can help you improve your condition while you are not in the PT clinic, giving you control over your injury or illness. Your PT can also show you exercises that can be used to prevent future problems from occurring.

Choosing the Best Exercises for You

So how do you know which physical therapy exercises are best for your specific condition? The best way to know that you are doing the right exercise for you is to visit with your physical therapist for a few sessions. Your PT can assess your condition and prescribe the correct exercises for you to be doing.

Naturally, you can expect a little soreness from doing new exercises that your body may not be accustomed to. Delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, typically lasts a few days after starting exercise. But the exercises your PT prescribes should not make your condition significantly worse. If exercising causes your condition to worsen, stop the exercises and check in with your physical therapist. You may be doing your exercise improperly, or you may simply need to find an alternative exercise to do for your condition.

Many exercises that are prescribed by your physical therapist are designed to help you feel better. When performing your physical therapy exercises, you should feel like your pain is improving or changing in a positive way.

Getting Started With Your Physical Therapy Exercises

Getting started on physical therapy exercises is easy. If you have an injury or an illness that causes pain or prevents you from moving normally, visit your healthcare provider and ask to be referred to a physical therapist. Choosing physical therapy first—before medication or surgery—is a good idea, as PT tends to be a safe and value-packed model of care for many conditions. Many states in the US allow you to visit a physical therapist via direct access, and no healthcare provider’s referral is needed.

When you first meet your physical therapist, ask about different exercises that you can do to help your condition. Your PT should be a wealth of knowledge on proper exercise technique, and he or she can prescribe exercises that can help you improve your mobility and decrease your pain. Think of your physical therapist as an expert guide who can teach you the proper exercises for your specific condition. He or she can help you, but it’s up to you to take the first step and commit to performing your PT exercises.

A Word From Verywell

Most people show up to the physical therapy clinic and say, “I hurt, and I can’t.” They are in pain and are not able to do the things that they normally do. You may feel anxious about going to physical therapy. This anxiety is normal, and your PT can help put your mind at ease as you learn exercises and movement strategies to help you move better and feel better.