By Beth Jennings, PT, MPT
Don’t be surprised if your physical therapist at FYZICAL – Forest Grove mentions using virtual reality (VR) as part of your treatment.
The military and aviation industries have used VR for years. Then, the video game industry brought it to the public by creating an affordable product. In recent years the healthcare industry has embraced VR, and it is available to you at our clinic on Pacific Avenue.
What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual reality is a computer-based environment you interact with using accessories like sensors you hold or are attached to your body.
Our Virtualis PhysioVR system uses a head-mounted display (goggles) for a fully immersive experience. Look behind you, up or down, and you still see the environment the software has created.
VR as a Tool in the Physical Therapist’s Toolbox
Although many of the programs in our Virtualis system might look like games, don’t be fooled. These programs were designed by a physical therapist and created with a focus on rehabilitation.
Much like the other tools in a PT’s toolbox like a treadmill or an exercise band, VR could be suggested as a way to help you reach your goals. And you’ll probably have fun too.
Athletes Use Virtual Reality
Reinjury is common after an ACL reconstruction, a knee surgery well-known to athletes. Their biomechanics or the quality of their knee movement is altered even when strength is normal.
In a 2014 study, ACL patients who utilized VR showed movement patterns similar to their healthy peers. It is suggested that the athletes using VR thought more about the task and less about their knee performance which may have led to a better quality of motion.
VR After Stroke
Physical therapists measure walking speed and distance to determine a person’s likelihood of falling. The slower walking speeds carry a higher risk of falls.
According to a January 2020 report by the American Physical Therapy Association, VR combined with walking practice in patients who had a stroke more than six months ago, improved gait speed and distance more than walking practice alone.
Examples of Programs on Our System
Your physical therapist can choose from more than 50 testing or treatment programs, such as:
Target Tracking: Look around for the buzzing bee you hear and hold it in the viewfinder until it disappears.
ReflexVR: Work on reaching, turning, or reaction time while popping balloons that change colors and positions on a wall.
Supermarket: Pick up a shopping basket, navigate the supermarket, and find the items on your list.
BowVR: A bow and arrow activity using hand controllers. Aim at the static or moving target to complete the task.
Mirror: Uses brain retraining for limb weakness after a stroke or chronic limb pain. You have to see this one to believe
Can I Just Use My Gaming VR?
Both gaming systems for the public and the Virtualis system can be loads of fun. Still, our programs are geared towards rehabilitation with the ability to customize to your needs.
Sensitive to motion? We can dial it down for you. Speed of activity too easy? We can turn it up.
The software is realistic, and you will feel immersed in the environment. We will keep you safe by standing with you or, if necessary, by putting a safety harness on you.
Our Virtualis system also has testing tools which will be covered in a later blog post. And, it can collect data on your performance on each visit for tracking your progress.
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Beth Jennings, PT, MPT is a freelance writer and a physical therapist.
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.
Gokeler A, Bisschop M, Myer G, et al. Immersive virtual reality improves movement patterns in patients after ACL reconstruction: implications for enhanced criteria-based return-to-sport rehabilitation. Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, Arthroscopy. 2016;24(7):2280-2286.
Hornby, T. George PT, PhD; Reisman, Darcy S. PT, PhD; Ward, Irene G. PT, DPT, NCS; Scheets, Patricia L. PT, DPT, NCS; Miller, Allison PT, DPT, NCS; Haddad, David PT, DPT; Fox, Emily J. PT, PhD, NCS; Collaborators; Fritz, Nora E. PT, PhD, NCS; Collaborators; Hawkins, Kelly PT, PhD, NCS; Collaborators; Henderson, Christopher E. PT, PhD, NCS; Collaborators; Hendron, Kathryn L. PT, PhD, NCS; Collaborators; Holleran, Carey L. PT, DHS, NCS; Collaborators; Lynskey, James E. PT, PhD; Collaborators; Walter, Amber PT, DPT, NCS; Collaborators; and the Locomotor CPG Appraisal Team Clinical Practice Guideline to Improve Locomotor Function Following Chronic Stroke, Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury, and Brain Injury, Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy: January 2020 - Volume 44 - Issue 1 - p 49-100
Kamath GV, Murphy T, Creighton RA, Viradia N, Taft TN, Spang JT. Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury, Return to Play, and Reinjury in the Elite Collegiate Athlete: Analysis of an NCAA Division I Cohort. Am J Sports Med. 2014 Jul;42(7):1638-43. doi: 10.1177/0363546514524164. PMID: 24981340.