Virtual physical therapy has quickly moved from a niche offering to the mainstream. Having more options is great, but it can also complicate decision making. Having an understanding of the benefits of both can help make clear which one would best help you meet your goals.
IN PERSON PHYSICAL THERAPY
The main advantage of traditional "brick and mortar" PT is that the therapist is in the room with you. That means they can move around to see how you're moving from different angles, physically adjust your position or movement as you exercise, and physically examine you - testing your strength, measuring your range of motion, etc. They can also use things like manual therapy, electrical stimulation or ultrasound when you're in the clinic. In-person PT may work best for:
- New patients - the ability to physically examine you makes it easier for your PT to accurately diagnose what's going on
- Less active patients - if you're not used to exercising and moving, having someone physically present to coach you along can be a big benefit
- People with complicated or chronic conditions - if your back has been hurting for the last 5 years and you've been ignoring it, providing a diagnosis and treating it totally virtually will be difficult for your PT
- Less motivated patients - virtual PT requires you to do most of your exercises by yourself. If you need someone watching over you to make sure you do them, in-person PT might work better for you
The main benefit of virtual PT is convenience. Because virtual PT relies on you doing most of your exercise and treatment on your own, appointments can be shorter. This also means that motivation is a prerequisite to choosing virtual PT. The fact that you don't have to travel to the clinic makes it easier to squeeze a visit into a busy schedule. Virtual PT works well for:
- Athletes and others with good body awareness - being on your own for your home exercise program requires you to be in tune with your body and how it's moving
- People with common athletic injuries - things like tendonitis, sprains, strains, plantar fasciitis, and overuse injuries are commonly treated by PTs. Because of that, there is a template for treatment that is easily adapted to individual needs.
- People who are comfortable with technology - you don't have to be a technology whiz, but having some familiarity with skype, facetime, or zoom helps!
- Existing and returning patients - if your physical therapist knows you, it's easier to treat you virtually.
Both options have benefits and limitations. One or the other might be right for you and your needs, but they're not mutually exclusive. Combining the two can work well for many people. Doing an in person visit for your initial evaluation and perhaps a follow up visit or two will let your therapist provide an accurate diagnosis and get you started on your exercise program. Once you're comfortable with your exercise program, you can transition to virtual visits.