October 7, 2020

Virtual care helps ease physical pain

Kaiser Permanente offers many high-quality, convenient options to help members get relief from common aches and pains, injuries, and chronic pain.

Online physical therapy, video visits, and secure messages complement in-person care to bring quality, ease, and convenience to members.

Two days after California’s statewide stay-at-home orders were announced, Willem Knibbe found himself flat on his back in his living room in the San Francisco Bay Area. Reaching for a newspaper, Knibbe had been literally floored by sudden, severe pain in his back, which left him unable to stand or move around.

“I didn’t know what to do, especially with COVID-19,” said Knibbe, referring to the complications he foresaw in receiving care during a pandemic. “As soon as I could sit up, I emailed my Kaiser Permanente doctor. He got back to me the same day with an online physical therapy program for back pain, as well as a recommendation for ibuprofen, other treatments like heating pads, and the offer to set up a telephone appointment.”

Getting pain relief during the pandemic

Musculoskeletal pain — pain that affects the muscles, ligaments and tendons, and bones — is very common. A recent report suggests that half of Americans live with a musculoskeletal condition such as lower back, neck, and wrist pain.

For Kaiser Permanente members who need help managing these common complaints during the COVID-19 pandemic, our facilities are open and safe. However, for those who feel more comfortable staying at home, we offer high-quality care via telehealth for many conditions.

“Treatment for musculoskeletal pain can often be initiated virtually,” said Ronald Navarro, MD, chief of orthopedics for Kaiser Permanente in Southern California. “If needed, physicians can order X-rays and diagnostic tests during telehealth appointments, streamlining the transition to in-person care. In many cases, resources like kp.org and online physical therapy may be all that a patient needs to start to feel better.”

For online physical therapy, a Kaiser Permanente clinician “prescribes” a customized video-based exercise program that patients can access on kp.org. As patients complete each exercise, they can digitally report on how challenging or painful each activity is. Since the program is connected to the patient’s electronic health record, clinicians can see the feedback and stay up to date on progress, adjusting treatment as needed to support faster healing.

What to do if you’re in pain

For Kaiser Permanente members struggling with the onset of sudden pain, Dr. Navarro recommends first checking kp.org for advice from leading clinical experts. Members can also securely message their doctor or set up a video consult through kp.org, or call the appointment and advice line to schedule an appointment or get advice, referrals, prescriptions, and more.  

Depending on how long the pain persists, next steps can include referral to an orthopedic specialist, testing, or diagnostic imagery to determine the best way to manage the condition.

For Knibbe, his decision to email his doctor that morning was the best one he could have made. Armed with clear advice and simple exercises, he got steadily better over the next week. “It was an easy and convenient way to get help and advice I trusted — at home, right when I needed it.”

Learn more about musculoskeletal pain and how to prevent problems.