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  • Cameron Oglesby

The good news and bad news about virtual physical therapy

Updated: Nov 14, 2021

In 2005, when the first national telehealth network launched, telemedicine was intended to give primarily rural patients access to faraway doctors and specialists. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed all that. With high-speed and high-definition Internet, people sheltering at home or with “elective” healthcare needs can consult their doctors virtually instead of in person.

As I wrote here and here, telehealth is great for seniors who want to see their primary care doctors or specialists without risking infection.

Surprisingly, telehealth can also work well for physical therapy – provided you’re willing to make several tradeoffs.

The good news is that physical therapists can diagnose and treat many conditions virtually – not just relatively minor conditions, but also post-surgery or after a broken bone or torn ligament.

You don’t have to take the time to drive to and from the clinic. You can work at your own speed in your own home. And you can maintain your schedule of sessions uninterrupted by traffic jams, snowstorms, hurricanes, etc. Therapists can test muscle strength and perform musculoskeletal assessments functionally, by watching patients do squats, lunges and heel raises. They can literally show you how to do the exercises, then watch you doing them and instruct you on proper form.

The bad news is, those initial diagnoses and evaluations can be harder to perform.

Between learning the software and placing your computer and lighting so the therapist can see you clearly, setting up a session can be tricky.

You won’t have the therapy clinic’s special equipment to work with. While you can exercise with water bottles, soup cans or broomsticks, and buy resistance bands online, you’re not likely to have, say, a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation unit sitting around the house.

Probably the biggest difference about tele-physical therapy is that your therapist can’t manually adjust you, support you, or feel how your body’s doing. But there’s a good workaround for that: communication. Make sure your therapist talks you through what’s going on and how you’re supposed to feel. If he doesn’t tell you, ask. As you follow your therapist’s instructions, be sure to tell her how your body feels during and after the exercise.

That way, you can enjoy almost all the benefits of in-person physical therapy without the inconvenience – and without most of the drawbacks.

If you have any questions about coping with the Coronavirus outbreak, or your retirement years in general, please feel free to call or email us. Just as we always have, we’ll be happy to give you honest, objective answers.

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