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It might shock you to learn that physical therapists who previously never would have considered working remotely are now all about physical therapy at home.

Most people think of physical therapy as requiring physical touch, but it’s so much more than that. 

Read on to learn what physical therapists and patients really think about physical therapy (PT) at home.  

At-home PT – is it as effective as in-person physical therapy? 

Yes. Physical therapy from home can be as effective as in person. 

“There is research out there showing the benefits for telehealth physical therapy for all different conditions including total hip and knee arthroplasties that show positive outcomes”– Britni Keitz, Doctor of Physical Therapy 

As a simple definition, effectiveness is, ‘how successful were you in getting better with this treatment?’ 

Let’s think about what factors can cause physical therapy (from home or in-person) to be successful. To get the most out of physical therapy, you should:

    • Do your home exercise plan each day: You remember to do your exercises. You remember how to do them and how often. You regularly do them each day or several times a day, as prescribed. 
    • Have a physical therapist who fully understands, diagnoses and creates a treatment plan for your problem: Your physical therapist is able to effectively assess and diagnose your problem. They are able to create a custom home exercise plan for your treatment.
    • Feel motivated inside and outside your appointments: You attend appointments and your physical therapist uses appointments to assess your progress. As a patient, you recognize that the majority of the work must be done at home by yourself.
    • Have a positive relationship where you feel listened to, cared for, and are given regular feedback: You feel comfortable asking questions about your treatment. You feel cared for and listened to at each visit.
    • Have access to non-physical therapy care if you need it: You are able to get extra care from nutritionists, occupational therapists or behavioral health specialists, if you have a problem that would benefit from other types of care.  

Are these objectives achieved with physical therapy at home? The answer is a resounding ‘yes!’ and in some cases, even more easily than with in-person care.

1. Do exercises more easily and regularly with a virtual app. 

Unlike some other medical problems, treating pain with physical therapy requires compliance, which essentially means doing your exercises. 

Basically, if you forget to do your exercises, you forget to get treated. 

Patients who regularly do their home exercise plan are significantly better at achieving their treatment goals, getting back to better physical function and getting better long-term results.

Unfortunately, an estimated 50-60% of patients don’t adhere to their home exercise plan.

It’s a no-brainer. An app is more motivating than a piece of paper or a half-forgotten explanation from your visit. 

Doctor of Physical Therapy, Kaitlynn Mueller agrees:

‘Having an app with physical therapy videos is an excellent way to help patients be compliant with their home exercise program and also help them progress at a slightly faster rate.’ 

In addition, having a visual reminder on your phone helps with exercise compliance. You can see, remember, open, and do your physical therapy exercises from anywhere. 

You also have a full explanation of all your exercises, plus other information you might need. For example, you might have forgotten how to do scar massage or how to do your nerve glides. It’s all there in your videos. 

2. Enjoy hassle-free appointments

With PT at home and an at-home digital wellness app full of exercises, you can use your appointments for what they should be for – talking to your therapist and progressing your exercise plan! 

It’s also easier to get to appointments if they’re at your computer desk or phone. Whether you’ve got particularly bad back, knee or shoulder pain, or just don’t feel like leaving your home, you can still make it to your appointment. No need for a mask or a car trip when you’re doing at-home physical therapy. 

3. Be diagnosed, assessed and progress. 

What about diagnosing, assessing and progressing? 

Physical therapists agree that it’s possible, in nearly all cases. Let’s imagine you have knee, back, or shoulder pain; you’re probably a great candidate for virtual. 

PeerWell Health Doctor of Physical Therapy, Kaitlynn Mueller, explains how virtual exams work: 

“I do indeed do examinations virtually and I find it to be so beneficial because I can see the patient in their environment. While there are some challenges to virtual examinations, I still am able to get a clear picture as to what is going on. A lot of times we will do special tests in the clinic. These are tests that help us either rule in or rule out a diagnosis. If a patient was coming to me in the clinic, I would have my hands on them for almost all of these tests. However, I have found that if I walk the patient through the test and have them perform it on themselves, I can still figure out what is going on. Now, this doesn’t work for every special test, but it works for a lot of them. I also rely heavily on movement patterns too. Basically what that means is that I will watch how the patient moves the injured extremity in multiple planes and compare that to their uninjured side and to what the normal movement pattern should look like. I simply just have the patient move their camera or adjust his/her positioning in order to achieve this. Combining special tests, movement patterns, and taking a good intake helps me create a clear picture as to what is going on.” 

Britini Keitz, Doctor of Physical Therapy here at PeerWell Health, also agrees and says it can even help her establish a deeper relationship with her patients: 

“Yes [you can assess physical therapy issues remotely], sometimes you can get even more information from the patient because they are in the comfort of their own home and privacy. I would assess the patient the same way I would do in person except for the manual aspect, but again it is not always needed. If it is needed, then I would recommend the patient to see someone in their area. Sometimes it is difficult with the camera positioning for the full assessment or big picture of things, but with proper education and prepping it can be done!” 

It’s clear that virtual exams are more than possible, and perhaps even more beneficial for some people.

In-person visits can still be useful. There are some cases where an in-person exam or manual therapy is needed.

A good virtual physical therapy provider can also refer to in-person services when necessary.  In the case of PeerWell Health, we work with a network of local, in-person professionals to make sure patients can get those physical treatments they need. 

4. Access the full care you need to get better. 

When choosing a provider, choose a virtual physical therapy provider that also offers holistic healthcare services. 

Your knee (or whatever’s causing pain) isn’t just caused by your muscles, joints and nerves. It can also be linked to other factors such as: weight, stress, mood, your environment and your day-to-day activities. 

With a holistic health clinic, your physical therapist is able to actually refer you to other specialists. 

Recently, a patient came to PeerWell Health for therapy and behavioral health help and actually ended up treating their neck pain and headaches at the same time. Here’s what Wilson, an at-home PeerWell PT patient, had to say about his experience:

“I’m a pharmacist in San Francisco. I found PeerWell through my insurance at UnitedHealthCare. When I was looking for a psychologist, my insurance recommended PeerWell Health Clinic. The first initial call, I talked to Janet, who was a case manager, and she explained to me that PeerWell Health was involved in a holistic approach – psychological sessions and also physical therapy sessions. And that kind of peaked my interest, because I felt like a lot of my anxiety was also being transferred to my physical ailments. I was having a lot of muscle tension in my neck, I was getting headaches every day. So I was really into treating the mind and the physical together as one. After going through both sessions, it actually did help me tremendously. The physical therapy actually helped with my mental ailments also, and it really improved me as a whole. I’d definitely recommend PeerWell Health Clinic to anyone looking to help treat any type of mental or physical condition.” 

When visiting a single therapist, you don’t have access to other important services. By visiting a comprehensive health clinic, your physical therapist can easily refer you to a nutritionist, a behavioral health specialist, or an occupational therapist. 

Your take-aways about PT at home

In summary, virtual physical therapy comes with many advantages. 

  • Using your free app can help you understand your condition better, remember to do your exercises and generally get more out of your treatment. 
  • Visits from anywhere means focusing on your progress instead of just making it to the appointment. 
  • Virtual diagnosis and assessments are possible, and sometimes even more beneficial and telling when done at home. 
  • Choosing a comprehensive, holistic health clinic means easier access to add-on care that you need. 

Have pain? PeerWell can help you reduce joint pain and increase mobility.  Schedule your free 15-minute appointment with a care coordinator to learn more.

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