Playing Your Way to Better Balance and Strength
By Beth Jennings, PT, MPT, CHWC
This state-of-the-art virtual reality technology expands the physical therapy (PT) toolbox by providing testing and treatment programs built for therapy.
And patients love it.
But Virtual Reality for Parkinson’s Disease?
Wearing the virtual reality headset while standing in a safe area with the physical therapist, you will hardly feel like you are exercising while popping balloons, catching flies, or pollinating flowers.
Yes, you can pollinate flowers.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
In the simplest description, Parkinson’s disease(PD) is a slowly progressing disorder of the brain that causes the body not to work as intended causing difficulty with balance and coordination as the disease progresses.
Common symptoms include:
- Tremor in hands, legs, head, jaw
- Slow movements
- Muscle stiffness, prolonged muscle contraction
- Reduced facial movement and expressions
- Difficulty initiating or continuing movement
- Impaired balance and coordination
- Difficulty swallowing
- Soft voice and slow delivery of speech
- Urinary problems and constipation
- Sleep difficulty
Although primarily a physical problem, depression and changes in memory, attention, and planning can also occur.
Exercise and Parkinson’s Disease
We already know exercise is good for us, right?
Having Parkinson’s disease is no exception. But there are added benefits to exercise in managing the effects of the disease.
According to The Parkinson’s Outcomes Project, exercising earlier in the disease for a minimum of 2.5 hours per week has been shown to slow the decline in physical abilities that affects independence.
And exercise can address expected issues such as:
- A decrease in flexibility, which can affect balance and the ability to bend over to put on shoes, or reach for items on shelves.
- A loss of muscle strength which can affect the ability to get up from a chair, from the floor, or out of a car. Weakness can contribute to falls and general imbalance.
- A decline in endurance or overall conditioning. This, with other impairments, can affect your ability to walk longer distances or create fatigue after tasks such as bathing or shopping.
Exercise Guidelines for Parkinson’s Disease
The Parkinson’s Foundation, in collaboration with the American College of Sports Medicine, has published guidelines for exercise with Parkinson’s disease to include:
- Aerobic activity
- Strength training
- Balance, agility, and multitasking
- Flexibility Exercises
- Read more in English or Spanish for specific recommendations on each.
Virtual Reality with Physical Therapy
A 2019 study in Medical Science Monitor showed greater improvements using virtual reality in physical therapy over those receiving physical therapy only when they measured balance, speed of gait, and a Parkinson’s disease rating scale.
What will you work on while using virtual reality? It depends on your needs -- flexibility, strength, endurance, or balance?
Need leg strengthening? Then your PT may have you catch virtual stars. This requires you to squat to reach them.
Is balance an issue? Then your PT may have you keep a virtual ball on a disc. You need to shift your weight left and right to do so.
And of course, a customized exercises program can also be created that you can continue with at home.
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Interested in scheduling a physical therapy evaluation to see if virtual reality can be a part of your treatment? Give us a call (503) 357-1706.
Beth Jennings, PT, MPT, CHWC is a physical therapist, and a clinical educator for Virtualis VR, the virtual reality device company mentioned in this article. She is also a certified health and wellness coach and the owner of Beth Jennings Wellness. bethjennings.com
Disclaimer This blog is provided for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Feng H, Li C, Liu J, et al. Virtual Reality Rehabilitation Versus Conventional Physical Therapy for Improving Balance and Gait in Parkinson's Disease Patients: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Med Sci Monit. 2019;25:4186-4192. Published 2019 Jun 5. doi:10.12659/MSM.916455