Virtual Reality in Physical Therapy

It sounds like something straight out of Star Wars. Or, more specifically, iRobot or AI: Artificial Intelligence.

But, it’s not. When it comes to today’s cutting-edge physical therapy practices – and, the physical therapist assistants who help – virtual reality is very much, well, reality.

And, Concorde’s students and graduates in its Physical Therapist Assistant program could, and probably will, find themselves in the middle of this exciting new technology and rehabilitation techniques.

According to the ReGame VR website: “The ReGame VR lab focuses on promoting the sustainable, evidence-based integration of virtual reality (VR) and active video gaming systems into rehabilitation. We explore how VR-based therapy can improve motor learning, balance, functional mobility and participation in children and adults with neuromotor impairments. We evaluate motor learning paradigms in virtual environments to understand how task practice conditions impact motor learning processes and outcomes. Our mission is to produce clinically-relevant, high-quality evidence in the field of virtual rehabilitation.”

Transitioning VR into traditional work of physical therapists and the physical therapist assistant

Traditionally, physical therapy has the function similar to a hyper-focused workout. The goal is to work the muscles and areas specific to an injury. Recently, with the expansion of medical-related technology, virtual reality is playing a role in the execution of physical therapy and the work of the physical therapist assistant.

Dr. Lev Kalika of New York Dynamic Neuromuscular Rehabilitation & Physical Therapy has helped to pioneer a system of virtual reality-based physical therapy. According to a recent story published by Inc.com, the use of VR in physical therapy has yielded some very encouraging results. For patients recovering from strokes, surgeries, or injuries, VR-augmented rehabilitation has shown hope for recovery.

One of Dr. Kalika’s solutions, the Computer Assisted Rehabilitation Environment, aims to treat patients with back pain, ortho, neuro, sports med and walking disorders. VR techniques are used to manipulate and expedite the learning process in both real and virtual environments. By focusing a patient’s attention on the effects of their movements with his or her external focus, the patient comes closer to recovery.

Bringing a new wave of innovation to physical therapy

Among other benefits, these new VR systems add an element of fun to rehabilitation. In many of these new systems, the program operates by projecting a patient’s image onto a virtual environment presented on a screen. Then, the patient performs a set of exercises prescribed by the physical therapist or physical therapist assistant aimed at ameliorating the physical issue. Working in correspondence with the video, this form of recovery often omits the usage of weights or other tools.

While traditional physical therapy is forced to work within strict physical confinements, a VR-based system has the benefit of exploring other locations through the virtual video. Patients are not only able to strengthen their muscles, but also their cognitive abilities.

The new role of the physical therapist or physical therapist assistant

A recent piece reported by BostInno concludes that any VR tool used for PT still will include heavy influence from therapists.

“Games would be selected and tailored by therapists,” the article stated. “Professionals would have access to real-time feedback from VR tools, so they can monitor whether patients are completing the exercises they should be doing and how well they’re completing them. And, the ReGame VR lab is evaluating the best methods for therapists to pick the right games for each patient and adjust the treatment accordingly, as well as determining the overall efficacy of VR in this field.”

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