As working from home drives people to physical therapy, rehab clinics are turning to technology to heal tech-driven misery

The hike from the train stop to the office, the corporate-curated ergonomic workstation, the daily out-and-about activities — a lot of people took it for granted.

And, for a number of New Jersey health businesses, it shows.

At professional physical therapy and rehabilitation centers, as well as at more casual athletic training and injury prevention facilities, people are showing up with either new or reawakened aches, pains and muscle tightness.

As beneficial as the bevy of work-from-home technologies have been during the pandemic, it’s what leaders of rehabilitation sites are blaming these problems on. What they’re using to address those issues, it turns out, is a bevy of health technologies.

Rose Hernandez. (Trinity Rehab)

Backs, ankles, hips — Rose Hernandez, regional director of Trinity Rehab, said that, at its Emerson outpatient facility, the whole body is showing signs of missing an ergonomic element for workers over the course of almost a year now.

“We’ve had an influx of chronic pain problems,” she said. “People are working from home, accommodating and doing what they can. But often that means sitting in an old dining room chair that’s not meant to be sat in for more than the hour you’d be in it for a meal, and moving around far less than before.”

On another end of the work spectrum, those doing hard labor are also encountering new or exacerbated orthopedic conditions, Hernandez added.

“We’re also getting about half of people complaining about newly realized pain, not only from people sitting for a long time, but because some are incredibly more busy,” she said. “Whatever work they were doing before, they’re doing triple now — perhaps at less well-staffed companies, lifting heavier items. So, we have people coming in with record amounts of back pain.”

Trinity Rehab has been able to provide guidance on stretching and exercise techniques to those experiencing the physical toll of pandemic workplaces remotely after introducing telehealth appointments earlier last year.

Hernandez said this has been helpful for people who are still cautious about visiting a rehab center in person, or for those that have been quarantined. Most of Trinity Rehab’s patients still come for in-person appointments.

In their facility, the organization has started utilizing cutting-edge rehab technologies, such as the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill, a massive, astronaut-like device with a plastic bubble surrounding the user’s legs.

Hernandez said physical therapy patients doing rehabilitation after an injury or surgery often have trouble walking or turning. This device allows their physical therapists to relieve them of pain during those activities by gradually adjusting how much weight they’re putting on their muscles.

“It gives us a controlled setting to work with, and there’s virtually no risk of falling for those with a fall risk, which is one of the best parts of it,” Hernandez said, adding that their patients “see about 75-95% improvement in their problems after using it.”

Other types of exercise facilities are in the same ironic position: Using new technologies to combat the aches and pains brought by new technologies.

Jake Feury. (Stretch Recovery Lounge)

Jake Feury of Stretch Recovery Lounge in Ridgewood, which tries to help clients improve their flexibility and prevent injuries, said technology is driving everything.

“We’re on our computers all day, looking down at our phones, or watching some other screen in a way that causes issues that need correcting,” he said. “At the same time, we’re utilizing a lot of technological elements ourselves to help solve those issues.”

Stretch Recovery Lounge utilizes one the new trends in health and fitness technologies: muscle massage guns. These devices are marketed as a way of improving people’s range of motion and helping muscles relax. One of the main brands of these devices is Hyperice.

Feury said the center, which uses Hyperice devices and technologies known for their applications in athletic training, has seen more demand for high-tech recovery solutions as people slowly crawl out of the past year of lockdowns.

That fresh demand was a relief for Feury’s business, which remained closed for several months at the pandemic’s onset last year.

“I think in a weird way, after the initial slowdown, people being cramped up inside has potentially driven more people to us,” he said. “Everyone has the same story of working from their kitchen table, without maybe the standing desk setup they had at the office. We’ve been helping so many of those clients.”

As much as organizations might be benefiting from new traffic, a pain in the neck … is a pain in the neck.

So, Hernandez is asking people to sit back and really listen (or sit upright, that is, in a way that maintains proper posture) to what physical therapists are saying: Focus on prevention.

“I always tell people, ‘Look, every 30 minutes, you need to get up and stretch,’” she said. “Even if you’re working from home, you should still be moving around and not just sitting in a chair. Make a few circles around your home’s community.”