Like most hands-on professionals, physical therapists were dealt a severe blow during the pandemic and unable to treat clients as usual. Fortunately, lockdown served as an unexpected opportunity to establish new modus operandi.
Michael Mayrsohn of New York-based Metro Physical & Aquatic Therapy utilized the time during the stay-at-home measures to innovate. As CEO of the family-run business his mom started 40 years ago, Mayrsohn was tasked with pivoting their focus on physical therapy during coronavirus to reach people virtually and create an online community.
“We’ve always been a retail company with store fronts,” Mayrsohn explained. “Virtual therapy was legal, but insurance wasn’t paying for it. During lockdown, patients were too afraid to come in for therapy and then Medicare allowed for virtual therapy to be billed, but it left out a very big component.”
To enhance the telehealth experience, Metro launched The Rehab Box: body-part specific kits containing a variety of equipment and over-the-counter pain relief products to support physical therapy during coronavirus.
“The Rehab Box was completely generated from Covid,” Mayrsohn said. “We’ve been incentivized to create that patient experience in their house so they can see improvement. Patients do better with the right equipment and the right therapist. You can’t get in the right mindset if you’re using a broomstick or soup cans, as you’re not getting the same quality of care.”
While Metro’s physical therapists previously recommended individual products from Amazon, Mayrsohn says that this endeavor was inspired by local surgeons asking how patients could effectively rehab at home.
“We have pre-made boxes, and then we have a ‘build your own box’ option based on injury or surgery in case they don’t want all the equipment or they want other pieces,” he added.
For example, the ‘Shoulder Box’ (currently $120) is filled with a pulley system, exercise bands, dumbbells, a foam roller, an exercise ball, an exercise band loop set, and a massage ball, as well as a medium hot/cold pack and pain relief gel to help perform self-physical therapy during coronavirus—with proper guidance.
Regularly asking for feedback has been crucial to the success of The Rehab Box, and Mayrsohn says that most patients are using the option—particularly younger, fitter clients.
Pouring attention into online ventures has also been an important focus for Metro recently. On YouTube, they are streaming their own-branded, free fitness program, Metro Active, and within weeks, subscribers leapt from 46 to 1200—with people even tuning in from Europe.
“I’d love to see ‘virtual’ grow as big as possible,” Mayrsohn said. “We were always so busy, and there wasn’t really a need for it. It wouldn’t have happened if Covid hadn’t happened, but now we’re going to keep doing it forever. “
For those opting to don their masks and return to one of Metro’s 25 locations for physical therapy during the coronavirus, temperature checks and symptom questionnaires are compulsory. There are private treatment rooms and tables are placed six feet away from each other.
For any triathletes currently experiencing injuries, Mayrsohn urged them to seek out virtual therapy.
“In the state of New York, no one needs a prescription to see a physical therapist. They can make an appointment through their insurance and it’s completely covered. The quicker their injuries are attended to, the faster they’ll recover.”
Meanwhile, a database of instructional videos to work in tandem with The Rehab Box offerings is also being built out. As Mayrsohn said: “Our goal is for athletes to be able to buy a box and subscribe to the channel. Like Peloton for rehab!”
He added, “This is a tremendous opportunity to convince patients to stay home; buy a box and don’t come in. We have so many patients that need hands on therapy, so we’re trying to keep the ones that can benefit at home.”
For Toronto-based Hayley O’Hara, the pandemic has also served as a time to diversify. O’Hara wrapped up seven years of study last September, meaning lockdown came just as she was settling in to working in physical therapy during coronavirus.
As a Myodetox therapist (a type of hands-on, manual therapy to correct issues and imbalances), O’Hara was able to offer virtual sessions to clients through their platforms. Similarly, Myodetox therapists ran a series of Instagram Lives for their 66,000 followers.
The months in lockdown afforded O’Hara the time to strategize about what type of social media content she wanted to put out on her personal platform too. This allowed her to really hone in on her area of expertise and interest: pelvic health.
“I was doing Instagram stuff every day. It’s been a great place to disseminate information on pelvic health. I was always gungho about pelvic health, but when you’re starting out, it’s a lot of orthopedic and sports cases with new patients,” she said.
“Social media, building your platform, and getting your name out there is so important. Now, people are looking me up on Instagram and I’m getting mostly all of my caseload for pelvic health,” she added.
“I’ve had so many messages from individuals from all over the world; it’s been great and really nice to help so many people from home. I also want to start doing more workshops based on pelvic health and exercise classes for inner core unit strengthening.”
O’Hara said that during the pandemic, injuries have shifted. What physical therapists are mainly seeing is an increase in postural-related complaints for physical therapy during coronavirus, versus issues from people overtraining at the gym.
O’Hara also recommended her particular form of therapy for multisport athletes.
“Mobility work is something that could always benefit triathletes because they cross train. Triathletes can also do virtual sessions focusing specifically on running, biking, or swimming. And maybe have someone do a runner’s assessment.
“Have someone help you though exercise prescription,” she advised triathletes currently dealing with pain at home. “Try to stay as mobile as possible and make sure you get in recovery. That’s probably one of the most important things; taking the time to recover and balance. If you’re doing HIIT, opt for Pilates or yoga to offset it to get the mobility back in your body—especially for posture purposes.
Ultimately, like Mayrsohn, O’Hara said that the pandemic was a rare opportunity for her to focus on efforts she may not have otherwise considered.
“It took a toll on me, and it was tough, but I think turning it around into something where I could create an audience for pelvic floor physio… in that sense it was really beneficial for me and my practice. I’m grateful for that time that it allowed.”