If you’ve been working from home for months now, your body is starting to remind you that humans are not supposed to sit all day. The other day, for example, maybe your neck cracked, and it hasn’t felt the same since. In fact, the pain is getting worse. So what should you do?

Physical therapists understand that when COVID numbers are climbing and people are being told to be careful and stay home, they are reluctant to seek medical care for what might seem minor compared to people fighting for their lives in local hospitals.

A reception space at a physical therapy clinic during COVID. Two women greet clients while wearing masks behind a plexiglass shield.

However, early in the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security included physical therapy on its list of essential services, recognizing the need for all of us to keep our bodies healthy and active. In fact, many experts say physical therapy is essential in flattening the curve of the pandemic, playing a key role in keeping people out of doctors’ offices and ERs.

To meet this need, therapists have been working hard to follow the latest guidelines from the CDC while treating patients safely and effectively.

For example, Coury and Buehler Physical Therapy, a Physiquality member in Orange County, CA, developed a plan for re-opening. “We’ve developed a plan that balances the crucial need for safety, cleanliness and infection control with the need to serve our patients, who rely on our services to regain and maintain mobility and physical function,” says Rich Coury, a physical therapist and co-owner of Coury and Buehler.

Photograph of several cleaning supplies for COVID on a table: Sanitizer, plastic gloves, face masks, cleaning spray, and more.

Like the rest of the Physiquality clinics we interviewed, Coury and Buehler PT has incorporated the following safety measures:

  • Screening before appointments to ensure patients have not been sick and are at a low risk of bringing COVID-19 into the clinic.
  • Creating new clinic layouts that enforce social distancing, including re-spacing clinical equipment, creating signs and directions to encourage social distancing, adding sneeze guards at reception, and removing or rearranging chairs from the waiting room — or even asking patients to wait in their cars until someone can escort them in.
  • Requiring masks for everyone, including therapists and patients.
  • Minimizing patients and staff in the clinic.

All Physiquality physical therapy clinics have to meet high standards for hygiene, and many like Coury and Buehler are setting new standards to reduce risk during the pandemic. Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Specialists, Inc., a Physiquality member in Massachusetts, has created an extensive COVID safety policy. The details include switching out cotton pillowcases on treatment tables for plastic ones, making them easier to clean; they even quarantine all tools like goniometers, tape measures, and towels after use to make sure they are cleaned between patients, according to Kevin Ward, a physical therapist and the clinic manager of Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Specialists.

In addition, they, like most clinics, are making use of hand sanitizer, as recommended by the CDC. “Our patients are required to wash their hands and/or use hand sanitizer before treatment and upon leaving the clinic,” says Timothy Moulton, office manager for Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Specialists. “We make sure hand sanitizer is available in multiple locations within the clinic.” Tim adds that patients are not permitted to bring guests with them to therapy (with a few necessary exceptions like parents or translators), and that the clinic has modified its schedule to allow extra time between patients to promote social distancing.

Photograph of feet in blue sneakers standing behind a green taped line on a white tiled floor.

Aeon Physical Therapy, a new Physiquality clinic in Pomona, CA, doesn’t offer ice or heat packs to patients because they are difficult to sanitize. “We’ve also put tape on the floor to remind patients to stay at least 6 feet apart from each other,” says Jenny Yu-Ching Huang, a physical therapist and co-owner of Aeon PT.

“We are doing our best to practice social distancing to ensure patient and staff safety,” Jenny adds. “However, if a therapist needs to get close to a patient for manual therapy, we first ask for the patient’s consent.” If the patient isn’t comfortable with that option, then the clinic defers those treatments until the patient feels it’s safe.

Jamie Mason, a physical therapist and the owner of Sunrise Physical Therapy, another Physiquality member in California, says that her staff has modified the way therapists work with patients to maintain safety. “If someone wants to come into the office, we want to have the ability to do that, but we still want to be really cautious,” she says. “Everything is very controlled and designed to limit exposure.” Among other precautions, Sunrise PT has installed air scrubbers with UV-C lights to keep the air in the clinics as germ-free as possible.

Photograph of a masked physical therapist sitting on a red exercise ball at the clinic.

Some of these changes may be permanent. Many clinics have started encouraging the submission of all patient forms online — even accepting payments over the phone or billing afterward, rather than taking payments in person. “We’ll allow people to pay in the clinic if they are uncomfortable giving their card information over the phone, but we are minimizing touch points for our reception staff,” Rich explains. “This is actually reducing stress at the front desk, since they don’t have to spend as much time checking patients in or out because we get so much handled in advance.” Since simplifying these processes benefits both patients and staff, he adds, they’re going to try to keep this function post-COVID.

Keep in mind that needing physical therapy doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll need to visit the clinic in person, either. Many physical therapy clinics have begun offering telehealth visits via video calls. Often covered by insurance just as they would be in person, these virtual visits allow you to speak with a therapist and discuss your musculoskeletal issues without having to leave the house. In many cases, your remote therapist can create a plan of care that can be completed at home.

If you’re concerned about visiting a physical therapist in person, contact your nearest Physiquality location to ask about how they are treating patients in the age of COVID-19; use our locator below to find one close to you.

Thank you to our contributors:

Aeon Physical Therapy is a new Physiquality member in Pomona, California, offering physical therapy and occupational therapy services. Contact them to learn more at 909-741-7690 or [email protected].

Coury and Buehler Physical Therapy is a Physiquality member with seven locations in Orange County, California. Founded by Brandon Buehler and Rich Coury in 2004, they work to help every patient live a better, healthier life, relieving pain and improving function through treatment.

Physiquality member Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine Specialists, Inc., has been offering physical therapy in the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts since 1981. Their therapists provide manual physical therapy services, specializing in a wide variety of orthopedic injuries, sports injuries, pre and post-surgical rehabilitation, sprains and strains, back/neck/pelvis dysfunction, and industrial injuries.

Sunrise Physical Therapy is a Physiquality member that has been serving Ventura County for 25 years. They specialize in post-surgical rehabiliation, work injuries, lymphedema and neurological issues, gait and balance training, orthopedic and sports injury rehab, injury prevention, and more.

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