Physio takes classes online to save studio

Tara Dighton has taken her physio and pilates classes online to save her Sydney studio.
Tara Dighton has taken her physio and pilates classes online to save her Sydney studio.

Strangers looked at Tara Dighton like she was a "total weirdo" when she arrived in Sydney from Queensland.

"I used to say 'good morning' when I passed people on my daily run," Ms Dighton said.

Now they say "hello" back. Sometimes with a smile.

It's the silver lining to a crisis that has already changed Australia in so many ways, according to the sports physiotherapist.

But it took time for the strict coronavirus measures to sink in.

"I guess the first week it was really just shock," she told AAP.

The following week her small business - Axis Physio and Pilates - lost 50 per cent of its clients.

It had no online system when NSW's COVID-19 lockdown kicked in.

"But we'd always wanted to do online classes so people who couldn't get into the studio and clinic had access," Ms Dighton said.

"The virus just forced our hand."

Using video conferencing app Zoom, Facebook and online bookings, staff at the Surry Hills centre can still run its tailored, four-person pilates classes and physio sessions.

The system was up and running in a week but it was a steep learning curve.

"It's been a massive transition for us but it's been a way to pay our staff and keep some of our clients," Ms Dighton said.

"I'm known for being pretty poor with technology," she added, "I prefer picking up a phone to sending a text."

But being able to talk face-to-face with clients has highlighted its positive uses.

"I tell my staff, we're like that hairdresser you've been going to for 20 years. You learn things about them and make connections on a psychosocial level."

A confessed sports fanatic, the former track hopeful has worked with premier league soccer teams, AFL and baseball players and was on Australia's medical team for gymnastics at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

In 2019 she was team physio for NSW's Super Rugby W side, the Waratahs.

But recently her passion shifted from professional athletes to helping the ordinary, recreational sports-lover.

She says a physio's hands-on manipulation provides temporary relief from pain.

"It has to be about movement so once the pain is manageable we introduce pilates - and other exercises - to improve a clients movement and fitness."

A hands-off approach suits a city practising social distancing.

Ms Dighton says part of the digital sessions is to make clients laugh, creating familiarity and connection.

As health professionals, people will come to them for answers.

"Everything about this is unknown which makes it so hard, yes, but there are certain things we can do to turn it into a positive."

Helping others is a great medicine, she says, and gives her a sense of purpose.

And despite fears her business could still fall apart she is grateful not to have lost her job or have family get sick.

She says some aspects of social isolation have been worth it.

"We've had so much distraction in the world and now...people are getting to see their children every day, teaching them how to learn and witnessing the way they learn.

"Yes it's tough, but they're getting this experience they'll never have again."

Australian Associated Press