Physical therapy has been one of the most recommended therapies to manage chronic low back pain, but did you know that there is a major shortage of physical therapists in the country, and really, around the world?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that more than 20,000 physical therapists left the healthcare workforce in 2021. Fortunately, there is a new kid on the technology block: Digital Physical Therapy.
The Rise Of Digital Physical Therapy
Since 2018 there has been a rise in companies offering digital physical therapy solutions to try and make physical therapy more accessible to people through the use of technology.
These companies have some very different approaches to care and many are at quite different stages in their creation but all have one goal in mind: to expand access to care for the millions of people that wish to access this evidence-based treatment to manage their chronic low back pain.
In this article we are going to look at some of the top digital PT companies to watch in 2023.
The Use Of Physical Therapy For Chronic Low Back Pain
If you are one of the millions of Americans who suffer from chronic low back pain then there is a good chance that, at some point, your healthcare provider recommended trying physical therapy to treat it.
When it comes to managing chronic low back pain physical therapy is one of the most highly recommended treatments that all healthcare professionals agree upon and it remains an evidence-based, first line treatment for the condition.
Physical therapy for low back pain generally involves a series of exercises designed to strengthen the lower back muscles, while improving flexibility in the spinal tissues and joints.
Goals Of Physical Therapy:
Increase flexibility and range of motion in the spine
Help patients be able to go about their daily activities with minimal pain
Provide education and guidance around the condition as well as to help prevent flare-ups in the future
The Alarming Shortage Of Physical Therapists
The United States, like many other countries around the world, is experiencing a major shortage of healthcare workers, and physical therapists are part of this shortage. While there are growing numbers of physical therapists joining the workforce, many are also leaving.
The COVID-19 pandemic placed enormous demands on healthcare professionals and many left the workforce altogether. This made it challenging for clinics to have enough physical therapists to adequately staff their businesses. This situation is even worse in rural areas where there is often one only physical therapist to treat the entire community. Sometimes there isn't even one in the whole county.
How Digital PT Can Help
Cue the rise of digital physical therapy. Digital technology enables patients to connect with physical therapists from the comfort and convenience of their own homes. This means that a patient in the country can connect with the doctor of their choice - even if their doctor doesn’t live in their area.
Some Key Benefits Of Digital PT:
Reduced transportation costs for patients
Increased access to a variety of clinicians
Less wait time to get an appointment
Fewer cancellations for providers
Decreased need for childcare for patients to attend appointments.
Expanded access to care
Greater health equity for patients
So, which companies are offering these wonderful digital physical therapy solutions?
1. Click Therapeutics
Click Therapeutics is a biotechnology company that is developing different digital therapeutic options for people with a variety of unmet medical needs. Click’s digital therapeutics offerings make use of cognitive and neurobehavioral mechanisms that enable change within individuals.
Click's programs are built on the Click Neurobehavioral Intervention Platform (CNI) which is powered by their machine learning and data science engine, Clickometrics. The platform continuously personalizes the user experience to optimize engagement and outcomes, taking a patient-first approach to treatment.
The different products are actually able to leverage off each other for learning more about the patient experience and how to optimize it and to predict the best treatment journey for each patient.
How It Works
The program administers clinically proven therapies by way of daily and weekly missions that are designed to help you reach your goal through a series of achievable steps.
Patients download the app from the app store after receiving their electronic prescription from their doctor.
The pharmacist then activates the app with a special activation code.
While treatment times can vary, the program generally takes between 8-12 weeks to complete.
After treatment the patient follows up with their healthcare provider to discuss results as well as the next steps, and they may receive a prescription for some type of medication.
Blending therapeutic approaches to chronic conditions has been shown to have significant benefits for patients.
While their low back pain program is currently still in development they have had great success with their initial program aimed at smoking cessation. They are also working on solutions for major depressive disorder, insomnia, schizophrenia, obesity, and overactive bladder.
2. Dario Health
Dario Health offers users a virtual physical therapy program that consists of range-of-motion sensory technology that tracks adherence to exercise programs and offers users feedback on their form.
Dario's solution combines exercise therapy and posture training in a physical therapist-supervised member journey that is designed to “drive engagement, retention and improved clinical outcomes in an easy-to-use solution”.
How It Works
Users wear a single sensor that gives them feedback on their form when they perform certain physical therapy exercises.
Coaches and physical therapists are on hand to monitor these movements and they can offer text-based feedback during the session as well as making adjustments to the program in between different sessions.
The Dario Health platform uses a combination of sensory data and user-inputted data to understand and assess the client’s condition and it can predict when they need automated or human interventions.
Dario Health also offers low back pain sufferers the option to use the Upright and the Upright Go devices which are digital posture trainers that can help users know when they need to adjust their posture in order to prevent or manage their chronic low back pain.
RightMove is still in its infancy stage as it builds out its telehealth platform that will provide access to virtual physical therapy services to its clients. Created by HSS (Hospital For Special Surgery) in 2022, RightMove recently acquired a $21 million series A funding to help build their solution.
Their solution focuses on 2 key aspects of digital physical therapy:
Triage of acute traumas
How It Works:
Patients can receive a 45 minute virtual triage service from an HSS-trained physical therapist.
Triage appointments are available 24 hours a day and are offered country-wide.
All services are provided via their telehealth platform that will be available for purchase by health plans and employers. The company is focused on providing services to companies and their employees and offers management of more than 95 different conditions, one of which is low back pain.
RelieVRx takes a very unique approach to digital health and offers customers the first FDA-authorized treatment for pain to be delivered via virtual reality.
Launched in November 2021 the RelieVRx program provides treatment that is based on cognitive behavioral therapy skills (CBT) as well as other evidence-based behaviors for patients with chronic lower back pain.
How It Works
RelieVRx is an 8 week program that consists of 56 sessions, lasting anywhere from 2 to 16 minutes.
The user puts on a VR headset complete with goggles, a controller, and a breathing amplifier that directs your breath towards a microphone to record and analyze your breathing.
The aim of the technology is to teach breathing techniques using gamification to make it more fun and interesting.
RelieVRx has been used in more than 60,000 patients so far and the company is currently conducting clinical trials to prove their effectiveness. Early results look good with the company reporting that 2 out of 3 patients found a clinically meaningful reduction in their pain levels.
If the product is approved by the FDA you will need a prescription from your doctor to access the solution.
5. Hinge Health
Founded in London, in 2015, Hinge Health has become the first digital physical therapy "unicorn". Hinge Health was one of the first companies to enter the digital PT world and they have reinvented themselves several times along the way as the digital PT landscape has changed and evolved.
Hinge Health offers employers a digital musculoskeletal clinic to help their employees prevent and manage many different msk conditions like chronic back, knee, hip, neck, or shoulder pain.
The technology consists of range of motion technology (in the form of wearable sensors) that are combined with digital health coaching and an app. There is also the option to add a TENS unit for additional pain control.
While the cost of different plans may vary, it seems as if the cost of the solution is around $1,200 per person, but depending on your company’s health plan, your employer may cover the full cost for you.
How It Works:
First, you need to find out if your employer offers this benefit via your health benefits.
Users will complete an initial questionnaire to ensure that they are a good fit for the program. If you are accepted into the program then you will be sent the sensors and given access to the app.
Patients are guided through daily 15 minute exercise sessions where they will perform a variety of physical therapy exercises.
Using a small tablet to help you see your movements, the range of motion sensors show you when you are doing an exercise incorrectly and will help you make the necessary adjustments to your form.
Digital health coaches can provide support via text or email to help you stick to the 12 week program and keep you motivated.
Some patients need the addition of the Enzo device (a TENS machine) to help control their pain so that they are able to perform the exercises. This is an add-on service.
At the end of the program you return the sensors back to Hinge Health.
The Benefits Of Digital Health
Hinge Health is a convenient program that fits your schedule and can be completed from anywhere - a major benefit of digital physical therapy solutions. They have extensive data from clinical trials to support the use and benefits of digital physical therapy in managing chronic musculoskeletal conditions. They have recently expanded their offerings to include a program for pelvic health.
6. Sword Health
Sword Health was also founded in 2015 and came to rise around the same time as Hinge Health. They have also metamorphosed over the years as technology has improved. Their solution focuses of range of motion technology but making use of the customer’s own phone to track movements.
How It Works:
A physical therapist designs a program for the user in the beginning and then provides the customer with a series of exercises that are then tracked using the sensory technology.
The patient performs the exercises in front of their phone using the Sword Health app.
Sword Health’s offering combines virtual physical therapy with AI driven technology and pairs physical health specialists with patients using technology to bridge the gap.
As is the case with Hinge Health, Sword Health’s solution is only available via employer-based health insurance plans. Sword Health has also recently expanded their product line to include a digital pelvic health therapy solution, called Bloom.
Digital physical therapy is set to take the healthcare world by storm, and it couldn’t come at a better time. The workforce is shrinking but the demand for physical therapy services is growing at an all-time high.
By using technology to bridge the gap between user and healthcare provider, physical therapists are able to give more of their time to users when they need it most.
How Digital Therapy Can Help
Digital physical therapy isn’t just a great offering for patients with it being convenient, effective, time-saving, and money-saving, but it can also make life easier for physical therapists who are already struggling to keep up with the demand for PT services.
Decreased wait times, greater scheduling flexibility, fewer cancellations, and improved adherence to home exercises can be a game changer for both parties. And the best part? Better outcomes for everyone makes for the ultimate physical therapy experience.