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How Does Physical Therapy Work at Home? 

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By AtHome Healthcare Team

The human body and mind feel most at peace when surrounded by friendly faces and familiar objects. You feel safe, liberated, and stable to pursue any goal you set your mind to. This state of mind makes recovering from diseases and injuries easier and faster.

When a person has either lost some mobility or is learning how to manage pain, they may benefit significantly from a physical therapist providing at-home physical therapy. The physical therapist’s intervention would provide the necessary care consistently to help the patient regain lost mobility and restore limb function.

Since physical therapy requires a more hands-on approach with multiple sessions per week, doing it at home is the best alternative. It brings clinic-like service of qualified and legally certified physical therapy caregivers to the patient’s home. This option saves a person from the inconvenience of visiting the clinic or hospital multiple times a week.

The familiarity and comfort of the home compared to the monotonous clinic routine help keep the patient’s morale high and aid to a faster recovery.

At-home physical therapy also helps the patient’s family as they get educated and more aware regarding how to care for their loved one. The family’s involvement also makes the healing journey more compelling.

When a person needs the attention of physiotherapists, they usually have two options. They could either opt for at-home physical therapy or an outpatient physical therapy program – if their budget allows it.

What is At-Home Physical Therapy?

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) defines physical therapists as licensed and trained movement experts that provide ongoing diagnosis, health care, movement improving exercise, and necessary information to the recovering patient.

Physical therapists can provide their services for several health concerns to patients of any age. These patients usually recover from an injury or surgery or have a disability due to a disease. Physical therapists are qualified to examine a patient, offer a diagnosis, and develop a treatment plan to help the patient improve their quality of life and regain regular bodily movements.

Some patients need physical therapy a couple of times every month for a couple of months to deal with pain and improve movement. On the other hand, some patients need a more extensive physical care plan where they essentially re-learn how to move their bodies after a traumatic event. The care plan may involve daily or frequent physical therapy sessions per week.

When the doctor refers a patient to a physical therapist, they have a few options to choose from. They can choose to get the physical therapy treatment done at the same hospital that initially dealt with the patient’s injury or disease, or they can take their physical therapy to an outpatient clinic, skilled nursing facility, or nursing home. Usually, the best option for patients is to have their physical therapy sessions in their homes. This option has almost always proven to be the most effective for a patient’s timely recovery and mental health.

Under the APTA, in America, a person needs to earn a doctor of physical therapy degree from a certified medical school or college and pass a state exam to become a physical therapist. Usually, a professional DPT degree takes almost three years to complete. The degree covers various medicine-related subjects like cell study, cardiovascular diseases, treatment, etc., and therapy-related subjects like exercise physiology, clinical reasoning, behavioral sciences, etc.

At-Home Physical Therapy

At-home physical therapy involves the patient receiving physical therapy from trained or skilled physical therapy nurses within the boundaries of their home.

In California, the home health provider needs to qualify through a set of requirements to get their practicing license. An unlicensed nurse cannot legally provide home health physical therapy to a patient.

At-home physical therapy is usually recommended when the patient is home-bound or when the therapy visits are so frequent that going to a facility or clinic becomes inconvenient. The physical therapist arrives at the patient’s home with the necessary equipment and proceeds to conduct the session as they would in a facility.

This doesn’t include exercises that require the use of equipment that can’t be moved out of the facilities for at-home physical therapy sessions. However, many physical therapists facilitating rehabilitation make do and improvise with what’s available at home to provide treatment.

There are many benefits associated with receiving physical therapy at home. Some of the well-proven benefits include:

  • Recovering around the love and support of the family helps boost a patient’s mood and willpower;
  • The patient feels safer and more liberated at home than at a facility with unfamiliar faces and surroundings;
  • The patient sometimes can avoid surgery and recover from trauma in a healthy homely environment;
  • The patient can get the same quality of help from certified physical therapists while staying at home;
  • The patient and their family get more educated about their condition and what can be expected in the future. The family can learn how to care for the patient better, and the patient can mentally and physically prepare for what is to come. Knowing that the family is also somewhat aware and well-equipped to assist helps the patients feel safer and more at ease;
  • Physical therapy sessions could be as frequent every day or multiple times per week. Having a physical therapist come home instead of going to the health facility is far more convenient and cost-effective;
  • While at home, the patient can develop a more personalized relationship with their physiotherapist, which allows a bond of mutual trust and understanding to form. This bond enables better communication, which further aids to a speedy recovery;
  • With reduced traveling costs, a study has shown that receiving health care at home is almost 40% less costly than receiving the same service or care at a medical facility;
  • Medicare covers At-home physical therapy (if certain conditions are met).

What are the common Injuries or Disabilities that Need Physical Therapy?

Whether done at home or a facility, physical therapy aims to help patients regain control of their standard daily movement patterns while preventing further injury and discomfort.

While physical therapy is recommended by a doctor,  some patients may seek a physical therapist independently. Some injuries and disabilities require a physical therapist. The severity of the patients’ condition would determine how frequent the physical therapy sessions would be.

Physical therapy can also be provided for better daily fitness without a significant injury or disability. For instance, it could be provided at the gym for someone who needs to release some muscle tension.

A patient can then get their physical therapy treatment done at a facility, at the therapist’s office, or at home. For at-home physical therapy, specific needs have to be met.

A physical therapist can intervene in a patient’s recovery process at almost any stage. As stated by the World Confederation for Physical Therapy, If a physical therapist is involved early, they are certified to perform thorough examinations and provide a professional diagnosis. They can then create a detailed treatment plan to aid a person’s healing, recovery from surgery, or disability at home. The plan would include:

  • The necessary exercise
  • The frequency of therapy sessions
  • Required medication and dosage
  • The essential dietary needs
  • Self-management care and techniques

Moreover, the physical therapist can intervene and perform therapy based on the patient’s short-term and long-term treatment plan. 

Finally, the physical therapist can educate the patient and the patient’s family on some exercise routines that the patient could perform and administer at home by themselves.

Some common injuries, diseases, and disabilities that require a physical therapist’s intervention include:

  • Conditions that affect a patient’s motor functions and basic movements of the hand, such as carpal tunnel syndrome;
  • Diseases relating to the heart and lung, such as cystic fibrosis;
  • Skeletal diseases and disabilities that may include chronic back pain, joint pain, arthritis, and osteoporosis;
  • Numerous diseases and disabilities in children as young as infants. These may include pediatric conditions like muscular dystrophy and bodily balance disabilities like cerebral palsy.
  • Conditions that affect a person’s neurological and nervous systems. These conditions may include brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, strokes, and Parkinson’s disease;
  • Pelvic floor dysfunctions in women;
  • Bone damage or fracture recovery;
  • Recovery and healing for skin damage such as burns, dietetic wounds, and bandage change and care;
  • Numerous sports-related injuries such as muscle damage
  • Respiratory issues inhibit a person from breathing without assistance. Physical therapy helps strengthen the lungs and train the diaphragm;
  • Speech problems such as slurring and spasms. Physical therapy can teach the tongue movement to make the patient’s speech as audible as possible;
  • Cancer recovery

Can at Home Physical Therapy be Virtual?

COVID-19 has made unnecessary trips to clinics and hospitals dangerous for unaffected people. With so many deadly diseases possibly residing on hospital door handles and desks, many patients try to avoid a hospital visit as often as possible.

Have the therapist at home if the physical therapist is too far, has no way to travel, or is affected by a contagious viral infection. However, that does not mean your treatment should be delayed or stopped.  

In such conditions, online or virtual physical therapy allows the patient’s treatment to continue as per the designed treatment plan. Any delays or breaks could reverse or negatively affect the patient’s progress in recovery. Hence, in such circumstances, virtual physical therapy is the best option.

For virtual physical therapy, a patient essentially needs:

  • A laptop, mobile, or any digital device would display the virtual therapy session on a screen;
  • A reliable internet connection to ensure minimum disruptions;
  • Physical therapy training equipment as advised by the physical therapists. The equipment may include a yoga mat, comfortable clothing, some exercise machinery, and a stationary bicycle for an arthritis recovery;
  • An additional person, helper, or a family member to help the patient through some movements.

The benefits of choosing virtual physical therapy are many. First and foremost, it allows patients to receive certified professional help from wherever they are. Secondly, this method is highly cost-effective. The patient can get therapy at home without paying for the therapist’s traveling costs. A patient can also record the video physical therapy session and rewatch it for better understanding and help.

However, this method of receiving physical therapy has its limitations. It is difficult for the physiotherapist to diagnose without a physical evaluation. The number and types of physical therapy options are limited as the therapist cannot physically perform a treatment.

Can Patients Administer Physical Therapy at Home?

Just as COVID-19 has resulted in a rise in virtual physical therapy sessions, it has also led to many patients choosing self-treatment as self-administered at-home physical therapy. It allows more people to benefit from physical therapy many times, wherever and whenever they choose.

Although this allows a far greater majority of people to benefit from physical therapy, this option has its limitations.

A person recovering from injury or bone damage cannot get the same professional level of therapy treatment at home by themselves. Sometimes, a person may perform a wrong self-administered test and neglect the actual problem. As a result, the patient’s condition could worsen and make treatment impossible. For example, suppose a broken leg’s bone recovery is not made with the help of a professional physical therapist. In that case, the chances are that the bone might not heal properly, and the limb might need to be amputated or undergo an even lengthier recovery process.

Does Medicare Pay for Physical Therapy at Home?

Medicare will only cover physical therapy if a doctor can determine and state that the physical therapy treatment is necessary. Medicare does not cover physical therapy sessions a person independently chooses to go for.

Medical part B will cover parts of at-home physical therapy as long as the treatment is provided by certain private therapists. This limits the choice of the physical therapist.

To be eligible for receiving Medicare for at-home physical therapy, the patient must:

  • Be under a doctor’s assistance and have a doctor-provided physical therapy treatment plan;
  • Have the doctor review progress regularly;
  • Be home-bound

Suppose a doctor qualifies a patient for physical therapy. In that case, Medicare part B will cover 100% of the at-home physical therapy costs. However, the patient must fund 20% of the price for durable medical equipment. This equipment would include a wheelchair, walker, etc.

Final Thoughts

When treatment is provided in a safe and familiar place, the patient recovers faster.

Receiving physical therapy at home allows a person to have the support and assistance of their family, which can be critical in recovery. It will enable the patient and their family to remain connected and learn more about what to do to help the patient and what to expect in the future.

For further information and guidance regarding different home health services, contact us.

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