Updated: May 12
Online physical therapy brings your provider's expertise to the comfort of your own home. But, can a virtual appointment for physical therapy be as effective as seeing a physical therapist in person? Read on to learn more about virtual visits!
What is Telehealth Physical Therapy/Online Physical Therapy?
Telehealth physical therapy or virtual health refers to clinicians who provide patient care via technology. Licensed physical therapists use a video-conference platform to provide exercise instructions, patient education, and help manage serious pain quite efficiently. Instead of traveling to the PT clinic for an in-person visit, patients contact the physical therapy practitioner via phone calls and video for virtual sessions.
Telehealth is used in many sports medicine specialties and is suited for patients seeking physical therapy appointments that do not require the physical touch of a PT. In fact, the virtual physical therapy session is created to help educate the patient and determine a treatment plan to assist in preventing injuries or worsening of a painful episode.
Equipment You'll Need During Virtual Therapy Sessions
The online physical therapy session will require:
A phone, laptop computer, or desktop with a working camera and microphone
Reliable wifi connection
A room to allow movement
Exercise equipment is recommended by the therapist.
How Virtual Physical Therapy Works
Here's a quick overview of what to expect when you begin online physical therapy.
Step One: Request an Appointment
You start the process by submitting a request for an appointment. Many physical therapists offer online services, but be sure to do your research and choose an office with plenty of positive reviews. You'll need to provide information about your concerns or injuries so that the doctor can confirm if you're a good fit for a virtual physical therapy program.
Be sure to provide as much detail as possible, like whether you're looking for pain relief, assistance in the recovery process, help with mobility issues due to musculoskeletal conditions, or something else. For example, if you're experiencing hip pain, be sure to include what you're doing when you experience the pain and how the pain feels. You get the most out of this service by being specific.
Step Two: Verify and Schedule
Once you confirm that virtual PT is right for your needs, the clinic will contact you to set up your appointment and send instructions on how you can connect with your team via a video session. If you've been to the office before, you may schedule with the same physical therapist you've seen in person. Or, you may schedule with a new team of health coaches and experts.
The team will also confirm that you meet their practice requirements. For example, some offices can only work with people in certain states. Cost can vary, too. Some virtual physical therapy services are cash-based, meaning the provider does not accept insurance.
Step Three: Attend Your First Appointment
You should expect your first telehealth PT appointment to last about an hour. Your virtual PT will discuss your pain points and go over their plan to treat you. They'll demonstrate how to do each movement in your plan and answer any questions you may have.
Step Four: Ongoing Treatment
Just like in-person physical therapy, you get what you put in. That means that the work you do at home outside of your video sessions is critical. You'll need to stick with your plan and consistently practice the exercises your doctor prescribes. The more you stick with it, the less pain you'll be in.
Throughout this process, be sure to continue scheduling appointments with your therapist on a regular basis. They'll want to track your work, answer any questions you run into, and may tweak your plan depending on your progress.
Benefits of Telehealth or a Virtual Physical Therapy Appointment From Your Own Home
Telehealth has become increasingly popular in the last couple of years, and virtual physical therapy is at the forefront of the movement. You might be surprised to find out that a visit with an online PT can be extremely effective if you need to treat pain or improve mobility. In fact, one study showed that rehabilitation for total knee arthroplasty surgery via online physical therapy was similarly effective to in-person therapy. [*] Likewise, another study found that patient satisfaction with telehealth physical therapy appointments was equal to those who experienced traditional care. [*] Here's why you should consider video sessions with online physical therapists.
Let's learn about telehealth services!
1. Physical Therapy Treatment That Fits Into Your Schedule
Virtual physical therapy is incredibly convenient. No more time-consuming drives to the doctor's office or sitting in a waiting room for your appointment. No need to find child care. You get that extra time back in your schedule to use as you please. Plus, if you require physical therapy, you likely have some sort of injury that limits your range of movement and could make you unable to travel to in-person visits.
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2. Access for All
Telehealth physical therapy is much more accessible since all you need is a phone or laptop with an internet connection. Traditionally, you'd need to find a physical therapy clinic nearby that accepts your insurance. If you don't have access to reliable transportation, that could stop you from getting the care you need. Additionally, people who live in rural areas tend to have limited access to specialized health services, like PT. With an online physical therapist, you can connect, get treatment, and take care of your well-being no matter where you live or what your circumstances are.
3. You're in the Driver's Seat With a Virtual Physical Therapy Session
The ultimate goal of physical therapy is to provide you with enough mobility and comfort to be independent. Telehealth physical therapy actually enables you to manage your symptoms from home, putting you in control of your own physical therapy treatment and recovery. While you'll still have a physical therapist to create your personalized plan, check that you are using proper form, promote patient safety, and track your progress, you get to be in the driver's seat and maintain a sense of independence.
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4. Online Physical Therapy Allows for At Home Guidance
With traditional physical therapy, you're taught a series of movements in an office that you must then go home and practice on your own. Sometimes, the conditions in the physical therapy office don't match those at your home, which can present some unique challenges. With online physical therapy, you have the appointment in the same space where you'll perform exercises on your own. This allows your physical therapist to offer some additional guidance on making those movements work in your personal space, so you don't have to overcome those challenges on your own. You'll also feel a greater sense of confidence when doing the movements.
5. Seeing a Physical Therapist Remotely Boosts Exercise Progress
Physical therapy, in general, can improve your workout performance because it helps you regain mobility. Additionally, many of the exercises you learn in virtual physical therapy are rooted in exercises you might see in a normal workout. Once healed, you may choose to add these movements into your usual workout routine, helping you create an even more effective exercise plan.
Related: Is It Bad to Exercise While Sick?
6. Online Physical Therapy Services May Relieve Stress
Online physical therapy forces you to get active since it involves various exercises. Once healed, it also puts you in the position to remain active. Physical activity has been linked to a wide variety of health benefits, including stress management. In fact, there's evidence that even just five minutes of activity can create anti-anxiety effects. [*]
7. Telehealth Therapy Services May Support a Healthy Immune System
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Online physical therapy treatment can provide a social connection and support network that you may not otherwise have. While it's still important to build relationships in your personal life, it might be hard to do so with an injury. Connecting with live, online physical therapists can provide some of that necessary connection.
As you can see, there are tons of benefits of telehealth physical therapy services! Do you think virtual visits are right for you?
Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site, including text, graphics, images, and other material, is provided solely for informational purposes and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other healthcare professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your specific condition.