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Despite Social Distancing, Physical Therapy Is Still An Option — Start With These Tips

Physical therapy is adapting so people can still get the help they need during the coronavirus pandemic. Plus, people can still do some exercises on their own at home.

During the coronavirus pandemic, health facilities around the United States have moved or canceled all elective surgeries and appointments that aren't emergencies. But this leaves a lot of people still dealing with pain in their everyday lives. Whether it’s an acute injury or a recurring issue, physical therapy plays a vital role in getting us back to feeling our best. 

>>The Latest WUWM & NPR Coronavirus Coverage

Like many small businesses nowadays, physical therapy clinics are also struggling to stay open. Andy Kerk, physical therapist and president ofBody Mechanics, says his clinics are down 75% of their normal volume of patients. However, for people who still need help, physical therapy is adapting to still be a service people can go to.  

"A hallmark of what we do is right with a patient — hands-on, touching them and helping them very close. So our challenge has just been needing to screen our patients," says Kerk.

For Kerk's practice, screening patients over the phone or with a virtual appointment is the first step in assessing the health and safety of both the patient and the physical therapist. If someone does visit the clinic, only one patient is seen at a time with added sanitary precautions. 

"Even the [patients] who want to come in, if they aren't healthy and we don't think it's proper to come in, we're telling them don't come," notes Kerk. 

While some treatments can be for a nagging problem, there's a big concern for people living in a lot of pain. Kerk notes there's a danger of people relying on narcotics for pain relief and sometimes only so much can be done with assigned exercises.

"That’s the biggest thing, somebody who’s sitting at home in acute pain right now that is nervous to go anywhere. Like you shouldn’t go to the ER hospital, you shouldn’t go to the hospital, probably shouldn’t go to your doctor — you might want to call them and talk to them, but this is an option," he says.

"Use this time to heal your body instead of sitting there suffering."

Physical therapy has also moved to seeing patients virtually. Kerk says it's been a positive change that can help their practice in the long run — either for initial screenings or for follow-up appointments after discharge. 

"We can see what's going on just by watching somebody move, and then it's just a matter of us being creative with what can I give you to do right now that's going to help you? And that's always our goal anyway, is empowering a patient with what they can do on their own," says Kerk.

Physical Therapy Tips For Feeling Healthy At Home

Sit in your chair without using the back
"Move your butt back to the back of the seat so it's under your head," Kerk says. If needed, put a pillow on the chair to raise your body and move your pelvis in a circle to relax your shoulders and plant your feet under you on the floor. 


Get up
"Move every 15 minutes and do a couple of nice exercises to break up sitting," he says.  This can be as simple as walking around the house or doing a few stretches. 

"Try to get up and move around and limit your work time. Don't spend nine hours sitting there working — that's insane," he adds.

"There's physiologic changes you make if you just breathe in through your nose rapidly and blow out through pursed lips like you're blowing out a candle," Kerk says. "As long as your exhalation is longer than your inhalation you change your physiology — your blood pressure drops, your heart rate slows, your muscle tension drops, your brain can become a bit more clear. It's very good for you, COVID or not."


Overall, Kerk says exercise, eat smart, try to go to bed in a regimented way just like you used to. 

During this pandemic, WUWM's Bubbler Talk is focusing on the coronavirus and its impact on the Milwaukee area. If you have a question, submit it below.


Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.