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Megan’s Movement Minute: Run Strong!

If there is one thing I wish every fellow runner knew, it’s this: strength training is your best ally!

 

Strength training is an often overlooked part of a great running program. If you’re injured, this set of exercises can help ease your pain. If you’re not, they’ll help improve your endurance and help prevent injuries from happening.

 

Start with three sets of eight to 12 repetitions. Do both sides, not just the painful one. If your pain increases after the exercises for more than 30 minutes, remove the provocative one and speak with a physical therapist.

To learn more about how SWORD’s virtual PT solutions can help you and your employees move their way to better health, contact us here.

 

Run on!

 


About the author: Megan Hill, DPT

Megan Hill, Physical Therapist, is a licensed physical therapist focused on musculoskeletal rehab and chronic pain management. She dropped her plans to go to law school for physical therapy after a knee injury from the Chicago Marathon left her in need of rehab, and she hasn’t looked back since. She’s on a mission to empower people to manage their health through exercise, education and coaching, rather than relying on passive approaches.

Megan earned a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Duke University and is a certified running coach.

Megan lives in Denver, Colorado, where she spends every spare second running, biking, hiking, sailing and stand up paddleboarding with her husband, Layton, and dog, Ollie.

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Megan’s Movement Minute: Three exercises to relieve your tech-neck

Quarantine has been a pain in the neck for a lot of us. Around 10% of our members are struggling with neck pain. What’s causing these increases in neck pain, and how can we fix them?

Why your neck is hurting

Our head weighs about 10 pounds, and we evolved to hold it high and move it around. Today, we spend more time looking down at our phones and computers than looking up and out. Holding the same position – even if your posture is “perfect” – for long periods can be really bothersome to your neck. Tension in your neck can also cause headaches and brain fog.

How lockdown is making it worse

If you’re reading this from a laptop screen, you’re not alone. Laptop sales now outnumber desktop sales by about two to one. In an office, you might plug your computer into an external monitor, which helps you hold your head higher. But at home, you’re more likely to be looking down at that laptop screen while you sit at a dining table or on your couch. That lack of variety puts a lot of pressure on your neck.

 

Even when you’re not working, you’re also less likely to be using your neck as much as you otherwise would. Think about all the times your neck gets a workout in everyday life – turning your head to spot oncoming traffic as you cross the street, extending to find your car in the carpark, looking up to grab the subway pole. Your neck isn’t getting as many opportunities to move when you’re at home. Our bodies love movement, and when they don’t get it, our nervous system becomes more sensitive. Our muscles become tighter and joints stiffer.

The solution

Thankfully, our bodies have an inbuilt way to relieve and prevent pain: movement! Moving your body is beneficial in so many ways. It increases blood flow to keep your muscles limber and brings nutrients to damaged tissues to help them repair. It also releases hormones like endorphins to keep your brain happy and sharp and triggers our innate pain-relieving system, sending endogenous (made internally) opioids and cannabinoids through your body.

 

The exercises in the video below can be done anywhere and will give you quick relief from any neck pain you might be feeling. Remember that it’s ok if there is a bit of discomfort, but don’t push through pain when you’re doing these exercises – if you are feeling pain as you perform them, the SWORD neck program can help you rehab your muscles and relieve the pain for good.

To learn more about how SWORD can help you and your employees overcome their musculoskeletal pain, use the contact form below to get in touch!

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At-home pulmonary rehabilitation: a sigh of relief after COVID-19

For many COVID-19 patients, the battle against the virus doesn’t end when they leave the hospital. The toll the disease takes on the body, especially the lungs, leaves them on a long path to recovery — and to getting their life back.

COVID-19 has changed how we look at healthcare.

Those who showed symptoms of COVID-19 are now facing lung issues that make it challenging to do the things we take for granted. Walking, speaking, and even swallowing leaves them short of breath.

 

And it’s not just severe cases. In fact, more than half of patients who had few or zero symptoms of the disease showed lung abnormalities that could lead to long term difficulties.

 

If left untreated, these issues could become chronic. But there’s hope, and it’s got a name: pulmonary rehabilitation.

Pulmonary rehabilitation is vital for COVID-19 survivors.

A well-designed pulmonary rehab protocol can offer COVID-19 survivors a sigh of relief.

 

Great pulmonary rehab is a comprehensive intervention that combines exercise, education and support. When these tools are in place, patients see their stamina, strength, and function improve, which ultimately means better quality of life, mental health, and vitality.

 

However, the problem is that pulmonary rehabilitation remains largely inaccessible and expensive in the US. This pandemic has made things worse: the distancing measures that have been put in place to keep the risk of contagion low means that even fewer people can be treated in person, and many people still fear hospitals and clinics.

We’re bringing pulmonary rehabilitation to the COVID-19 survivors’ home.

To help patients breathe well again, we developed a groundbreaking at-home pulmonary rehabilitation program.

Simple, convenient, and safe.

As with our MSK solution, the pulmonary rehabilitation program pairs physical therapists with medical-grade and wearable technology. This program uses a blood oxygen and heart rate monitor to help participants and their PTs track their progress in real time.

 

This at-home treatment allows pulmonary patients to recover from the comfort and safety of their homes without putting themselves — and others — at risk.

An evidence-based, personalized program.

Based on the best available guidelines, the treatment is highly personalized by our physical therapists. Our PTs adapt the exercise program and education sessions for each patient while providing ongoing support, along with coping and behavioral change strategies.

An engaging experience.

Keeping patients motivated is a challenge we know well. By giving participants structure, supervision, and real-time feedback, our digital therapist empowers them to take control of their rehabilitation process.

 

Through 2020, we are making our full digital therapy program available at no cost to all healthcare, infrastructure, manufacturing, utility, retail, service, and other essential businesses. Our suite of treatments includes not only the new at-home pulmonary rehabilitation but also our effective and fully remote MSK therapy.

 

To learn more about our programs, contact us today.

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Keeping pain under control while traveling

If you’ve ever had the feeling you’re always on the road, you’re not alone. The latest numbers report Americans took 2.3 billion trips in a year, spending a considerable amount of time away from home — and their daily routines.

In fact, traveling might seem like a perfectly good excuse for skipping a few sessions when you are following an MSK program. But if you want to get better fast, complying with the program and staying physically active are critical, so missing your sessions due to travel can hold you back.

So how can you keep up with your sessions on the move? The solution is simple: by packing SWORD’s Digital Therapist in your carry-on.

SWORD’s Digital Therapist: your trusty travel companion

Our AI-powered digital therapist has been shown to help people complete their programs successfully from the comfort of their homes. But it’s just as useful while you’re away from home — here’s why.

It’s light and easy to carry

The Digital Therapist is small and lightweight enough to move around with ease.

The tablet and motion sensors come in a practical case that fits any carry-on bag and is safe for air travel.

Setup is simple and fast

All it takes to get the Digital Therapist up and running is a WiFi connection and a stable surface for performing the exercises.

Monica, one of our participants, took the Digital Therapist on vacation with her, doing her exercises by the pool with a bottle of wine as a weight. They do say necessity is the mother of invention!

You can do your sessions whenever you want

Whether you’re traveling for work or for play, you’re bound to get caught up between meetings, tours, and other events that fill up your days.

With the Digital Therapist, you can easily fit sessions in whenever you find a break in your schedule.

Always on your side, anywhere you go

With its groundbreaking motion tracking technology and easy-to-carry system, you have enough reasons to add the Digital Therapist to your packing list.

But the one detail that makes all the difference in the care you’re given is knowing you’ll get round-the-clock support wherever you are.

Your therapist is available for live chat in your local timezone, and when you’re traveling somewhere far-flung, our on-call clinical team is there to support you.

And because having someone watching over us boosts confidence and commitment, you’ll feel encouraged to continue your program — even while you’re away.

To learn more about how SWORD can help you overcome pain wherever you are, contact us today.

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Increasing rehabilitation adherence with the Digital Therapist

Following surgery, the body undergoes a period of healing. Postoperative physical therapy is the first-choice strategy for faster and better recovery, helping the patient return to work and perform everyday activities as they would before the surgery.

The rehabilitation process usually entails an intensive exercise program that extends for weeks and can include both in-clinic and at-home sessions. Committing to the process and maintaining adherence are the most fundamental aspects of physical therapy — and the hardest to accomplish, too.

The many barriers to rehabilitation adherence

Non-adherence to physical therapy programs is the result of the many obstacles that patients encounter or perceive along the way.

Barriers such as transportation problems — especially in those cases where patients can’t drive, thus becoming a “burden” for family or friends —, childcare needs, work schedules, and financial constraints are common reasons to fail appointments. Other barriers, however, could be as limiting, especially when talking about at-home physical therapy sessions.

Poor self-efficacy, that is, when the patient lacks confidence in their ability to perform a given task, can determine whether the treatment is effective or not. Left on their own, without qualified supervision or feedback, they no longer feel confident they are on the right path.

How SWORD’s Digital Therapist brings barriers down

To tackle this problem, different strategies and approaches have been proposed, and our Digital Therapist brings some into play:

Freeing patients from appointment scheduling

Perhaps the first advantage that comes to mind when talking digital is convenience.

Because the Digital Therapist supervises the therapy session from the comfort of the patient’s home, barriers such as fitting an appointment into their busy days or lacking transportation to a clinic are no longer an issue.

Giving structure to at-home rehabilitation

Improving self-efficacy is a top priority when it comes to increasing rehabilitation adherence.

By giving patients access to demo videos on how to perform each exercise along with real-time feedback on their performance, they become more confident in their ability to go through with the prescribed program. That’s exactly what the Digital Therapist gives them: structure, supervision, and positive reinforcement.

Allowing patients to track their progress

Another way to improve confidence and self-efficacy is to increase patient empowerment by giving them a sense of control over their own rehabilitation process.

With the Digital Therapist, patients have access to a summary of their performance in each session. Alongside the guidance from their human physical therapist, this allows patients to track their progress and understand not only what they still have to improve but also how far they have come.

Improving patient engagement through gamification strategies

By turning the physical therapy program into a game — with specific goals to achieve and rewards to earn — the Digital Therapist gives patients a sense of purpose and accomplishment during the rehabilitation process.

This gamified therapy taps into the innate human needs for achievement and reward, compelling patients to improve their performance and attain more powerful results. More motivation to improve means higher patient engagement and, consequently increased compliance. And that is an important step forward to success.

The Digital Therapist’s most powerful asset: the human touch

SWORD’s rehabilitation programs go beyond the digital approach. We believe in human+machine collaboration.

Every patient is assigned a Physical Therapist, who is always available to provide support and encouragement when needed. Knowing that their Physical Therapist is there to help them throughout the rehabilitation process can make a difference in the patient’s progress. In fact, they are most likely to adhere to the prescribed program if they perceive a positive relationship with their therapist.

This positive relationship also fosters open and transparent communication, which is important to address patients’ fears and anxieties about pain and self-efficacy, building up their trust in the process.

And to make sure patients not only get better but stay better, communication is focused on continuous patient education and behavioral change, so they can achieve long-standing results, not just temporary.

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Why human physical therapists should not fear their digital counterparts

The nationwide shortage of physical therapists (PTs), especially as PTs will eventually start to retire, is the focal point of the latest projection by the American Physical Therapy Association. If we factor in the impact of shifting demographics and an aging population, this gap between supply and demand becomes evident.

As a result, physical therapy becomes a scarce resource, increasingly costly and out of reach for most people. The solution? Some would be very quick to say “train more PTs, increase supply”, but the answer might go beyond the obvious: let’s make PTs superhuman.

Giving superhuman abilities to physical therapists

Science fiction has been telling us stories of robot-ruled worlds for a while now. However, having robots replacing humans, especially in healthcare, is nothing but a scaremongering tale that does little for innovation and stepping towards a brighter future. Instead, we must develop and explore technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a tool to augment the capabilities of practitioners, to make them better at their jobs.

In physical therapy, AI has the potential to improve the decision-making process by providing superhuman level diagnostics and measurement. For instance, collecting data with motion trackers offers physical therapists a rich source of information that enables them to accurately identify and modify a patient’s progress.

Nevertheless, as our CEO put it, “while [AI is] great for analysis and research, healthcare still needs a human touch.” This approach calls for collaboration between machine and human rather than choosing between one or the other. “It’s overly simplistic to see AI technologies and human medical professionals as opposed to each other in a battle over jobs. What matters most is patient outcomes, and a combination of strong AI-led analysis with a human context has the potential to deliver massive improvements.”

Another way AI is giving super abilities to healthcare providers is through scalability. As Vinod Khosla, founder of Khosla Ventures, put it, “There are probably a million doctors in the United States, give or take, but with AI systems, we could create ten or a few hundred million doctors worth of expertise and use human doctors only for what they love to do, which is interfacing with patients, making health more personal, accessible, convenient, and less costly.” At the end of the day, “AI will do much better diagnosis, monitoring, and follow-up than most human doctors and complement the human element of care humans might provide”.

The Digital Therapist as an ally for better care

SWORD knows AI is bound to make the lives of people struggling with MSK pain easier; the fact that it makes the physical therapists’ jobs more scalable is a welcome plus.

Besides prescribing therapeutic programs, the work of physical therapists includes assessing movement patterns and monitoring the progress of a patient. The Digital Therapist performs these tasks and provides more accurate data to SWORD’s clinical team, who no longer has to measure off how high should the participant lift their arm or exactly how many degrees is their left knee’s range of motion.

In the end, the human PT receives unique, precise information to create a more personalized program, and this saves them precious hours in their busy schedule. By being able to distribute their time more efficiently, PTs can assist more people without compromising treatment quality.

Moreover, the Digital Therapist is capable of providing instant feedback on participant performance during a session, which not only maximizes results but also fosters the PT’s availability to delve into continuous education. As Lauran also said, “trying to fix people isn’t the only thing that’s needed, you have to try to get them to change and modify their behavior so they can achieve a lifetime of function and not just a period of function.”

Human+digital physical therapy provides better results

There’s one more reason why human physical therapists should not fear their digital counterparts apart: they can make their practice more effective.

Our combined human+machine MSK care solution has been clinically validated by several studies so far. In our first study, a group of participants under the SWORD program improved twice as much as the control group following a conventional PT treatment, not only on the objective measurement of their recovery but also on their perceived quality of life. The follow-up study then showed that these results were maintained for months without additional treatment, proving that the Digital Therapist can also provide long-term benefits.

And as we continue our scientific research and validation, the testimonials from our participantss and physical therapists will keep corroborating the positive impact of SWORD on their lives.

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Why digital physical therapy should be the standard of care for MSDs

Musculoskeletal care still has a long way to go when it comes to keeping up with treatment recommendations.

Treatment options are still way behind in what comes to what the CDC advises, for instance. Surgery and prolonged drug treatment are the go-to options to address chronic back and joint pain, and that’s partly due to the fact that conventional physical therapy cannot solve the problem.

MSK treatments: a quick recap

Musculoskeletal care is essentially being addressed in two ways: via surgery or through a more or less continued use of opioids and other pain medication.

The costs of surgery are, as it should be apparent, very high (both by economic and by quality of life standards). Of course they would be completely justifiable if these interventions had a high likelihood of success. Alas, this is not the case.

Back in 2007, the New England Journal of Medicine had already published a study that randomly assigned sciatica patients to either surgery or conservative treatment. A year after, the study found no difference in pain or perceived recovery for either treatment.

As for spine surgery, the rate of failure is so high that there is even a syndrome named after it: Failed Back Surgery Syndrome (FBSS), which according to recent medical literature affects 20 to 40% of all patients submitted to back surgery.

This being said, according to The Bone and Joint Initiative’s study “The Burden of Musculoskeletal Diseases in the United States”, roughly 12.000 procedures are still performed every year to treat MSDs.

As for opioids, we’ve already covered the subject at length.

Crooked: a harsh history of back pain

Crooked, the book where New York Times bestseller Cathryn Jakobson Ramin exposes the problem with the entire back treatment  industry, painstakingly explains the never ending cycle of pain many musculoskeletal patients have to endure:

“In 2004, Chris Livingston, (…) stood up after a couple of hours of pounding nails into a subfloor and heard a loud pop.  (…) his primary care doctor sent him to a physical therapy clinic, one that was conveniently in network with his health care plan. ‘I didn’t have to pay much for it (…) and that was important. (…) I was looking for convenience and price’. After the facility’s head therapist did a quick evaluation, a young assistant took charge of his care. (…) ‘I’d say that I had pain and tingling down my leg’, Livingston said, ‘and she’d tell me to stop for the day’.

After several weeks of no progress, the head PT told Livingston that he’d used up his sessions, and should see a spine surgeon.

He followed this advice. After a couple of unsuccessful lumbar discectomies, the surgeon sent him to a pain management doctor. Under the influence of strong opioids, he couldn’t find the motivation to get back to work. ‘I let the business go, and the house, too,’ he said. ‘The pain was too great, and I couldn’t handle it, and to be honest, the drugs made me really not care.’”

Jakobson Ramin’s book is filled with gruesome stories about opioids, surgery and conventional physical therapy. But above all, Crooked is a book about a patient’s struggle with pain and the twisted path she underwent to find a solution for it. It’s a story we’ve heard many times but one very worth your reading.

The problem with conventional Physical Therapy

Therapeutic exercise is, as we pointed out, the CDC’s recommended treatment to tackle musculoskeletal disorders.

The problem with traditional physical therapy, as we can see from Crooked ’s example, is first of all its cost: good physical therapists are costly, many are not in network with health care plans, and even if they are, out of pocket expenses are prohibitive for the vast majority of Americans.

The second problem is how cumbersome physical therapy is: going to a clinic every day for weeks or months is not exactly doable for many patients.

And clinics have yet another problem: you are dependent on the attention of a very scarce resource: physical therapists. Not only that, a PT’s quality can range from the assistant that dealt with Mr. Livingston to the highly trained Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) that eventually helped Cathryn Jakobson Ramin (which, by the way, was not covered by insurance and cost around $125/session).

Why SWORD just works

Let us quote Cathryn Jakobson Ramin again: “Everyone who goes to PT is assigned home exercises, but very few people do them. For an exercise to work, you not only have to do it but must do it correctly. For the patient left to his own devices, that’s unlikely. As the late Karel Lewit, who led the Prague School of Rehabilitation, was famous for saying: ‘The capacity of the patient to alter his prescribed exercises knows no bounds’.”

This is the exact point we’re solving at SWORD, along with the cumbersomeness of the entire back-and-forth to clinics.

To encourage participants to perform the exercises correctly, our Digital Therapist evaluates the participant’s motion with clinical precision and provides detailed feedback on how to perform better.

Alongside our human DPTs, who assess, orient, and prescribe sessions to every participant and are available whenever they need them, we have created a solution that solves everything that is wrong with conventional physical therapy.

And because contrary to what happens at a clinic our DPTs are not overbooked with hour-long sessions, we can provide more cost-effectively and better care, reducing the number of surgeries by up to 50%, medication intake by 33%, and pain by 74% (in only 8 weeks)

But perhaps the most prominent feature about SWORD is something a participant of ours once pointed out: “The best thing about SWORD is the ability to perform physical therapy in our pajamas”.

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SWORD’s Digital Therapist recovers patients faster and better than traditional physical therapy

Over the past years, our entire team has been working relentlessly to get to the findings we are now very proud to share with you: people recovering with our Digital Therapist at home under remote supervision of our clinical teams recover faster and better than those resorting to conventional physical therapy. Not only that, the benefits of our combined human+machine MSK care solution are longer lasting than those presented in traditional physical therapy.

Forbes explained the motivation behind our research very sagely:

An AI physical therapist guides patients through a number of exercises, using the trackers to give feedback in real time (…). The exercises are set by a remote team of human clinicians, who’ll check in periodically, and they’re covered by a number of insurance companies worldwide. (…) But pretty much everyone is doing something “AI” these days, so the real test of its effectiveness is the patient data. It’s looking good.

The fact is, when it comes to the Digital Therapist, clinical validation is not a mere formality. That is why our teams are continuously assessing its effectiveness and why we always have ongoing studies to objectively discern what benefits we are bringing to patients.

The Digital Therapist is faster and overall more effective

In the first study, published in Nature Scientific Reports journal, we compared two groups of patients that had undergone knee surgery during their eight-week recovery. The first group used the Digital Therapist to perform physical therapy at home, and the second group used conventional physical therapy. Results showed the group using SWORD’s Digital Therapist improved twice as much than the conventional physical therapy group in the test that objectively measured their recovery (Timed Up and Go test). The same results surfaced for the subjective, patient-reported quality of life assessment regarding the existence of symptoms or pain and the ability to perform activities of daily living.

SWORD’s Digital Therapist shows longer lasting benefits

The second study was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, the leading Health Informatics journal, and aimed at proving the Digital Therapist’s medium and long-term superiority. The article demonstrates that the benefits shown in the group using SWORD’s Digital Therapist were maintained three and six months after surgery, without additional treatment beyond the 8-week program.

The results apply to objective performance measures and also to subjective scales of pain, quality of life and ability to perform daily activities. This article proves that the Digital Therapist is a reliable long-term solution since its benefits do not fade over time.

The future of physical therapy

“These findings prove SWORD Health’s innovative approach is the future of physical therapy,” said our CEO, Virgílio Bento. “We are not just dramatically reducing costs for physical therapy. We are proving to be a better, faster, and tremendously more convenient approach to physical therapy that enables patients to recover at home.” Bento also points out that “Demand for physical therapy is rising around the world yet, for the vast majority of people, the therapy they need, in terms of quality and intensity, is out of reach.”

Our Chief Medical Officer, Fernando Correia, is “very pleased to finally prove that patients can access effective treatment without leaving their own houses, with sustained benefits over time. Ours is a life-changing approach to physical therapy, and we are looking forward to making it accessible to more and more patients all over the world.”