Virtual Reality in Physical Therapy Clinics going into 2020
Physical Therapy Today
There are more than 800,000 people in the United States who suffer from a stroke or traumatic brain injury every year. There are over nine million adult Americans who use physical therapy services every year, with countless more still waiting to be treated or unable to afford the type of care they need.
These individuals go to physical therapy to help with the treatment of disease or injury by using therapeutic exercises and other interventions that focus on improving their range of motion, posture, strength, endurance, balance, coordination, joint mobility, and flexibility, as well as alleviating pain they may be feeling. Physical therapy is a crucial part of the recovery process to help patients regain their ability to perform functional daily living activities.
The neuroplasticity of the brain also has the ability to form and reorganize synaptic connections, both functionally and physically in response to new learning or physical therapy following an injury to its brain cells. Research will show that the more time a patient dedicates to therapy with functional goals in mind, the stronger the synapses and faster re-organization of the brain can be achieved.
The rehabilitation community is looking for the next best technology to help expedite an individual's recovery. To truly help the countless people needing therapy treatment, the technology has to be efficient and proven through research. It also has to be affordable and available to those millions of individuals world wide who either can’t afford going to a clinic or may live in rural areas where transportation becomes a huge barrier to being treated.
Only 35% of physical therapy patients fully adhere to their plans of care according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. You may know someone going through physical therapy or have been through it yourself. Was it boring? Monotonous? Did you dread going every session? Maybe you hardly saw results so you eventually just gave up? These are common complaints about physical therapy which drives a need for a more patient experience and value focused plan of care to keep them motivated with their therapy.
This is where virtual reality steps in
Its popularity has been rising in recent years, commonly associated with video games and fun. But what many innovators and those inside virtual reality communities are realizing, it has endless possibilities to be the exact right fit for certain industries. The technology and hardware has drawn a lot of hesitation to adopt in the past because it’s too cumbersome, too expensive, too many wires and liabilities when using on patients, or many clinicians may be just set in their ways with traditional practices and don’t have the time to learn and integrate these new types of technologies.
The turn of the decade is just around the corner and I’m telling you the time to start adopting virtual reality technologies is here. With the release of the Oculus Quest all those complaints are no more and we have found the next best virtual reality technology to help skyrocket this adoption rate, get it in the hands of clinics, patients at home, and leveraged to change the physical therapy world for the better. This is our message and lessons learned from the trenches with Neuro Rehab VR, the leading provider in virtual reality therapy applications.
How does this technology get integrated into current therapy treatments?
Virtual reality therapy exercises are created with precise control over the stimulus and the cognitive load that the user experiences. With VR you interact with the virtual world in 3 dimensions, thus providing a more immersive experience that utilizes more of your senses and brain power, helping to rebuild those neurological pathways. This is proven to be a lot more valuable than 2 dimensional virtual therapy practices and no functional interactivity at all.
The approach to getting this technology inside facilities and used as part of patient's daily therapy plans is really quite simple, but the biggest learning curve is not for the patient, but for the therapist. It first takes the adoption of the technology, but then the therapists need to learn everything there is to know to best utilize each application and exercise. Once they take the day to understand that, they will be able to get the most use of technology, know exactly when the best time to use virtual reality with a patient, and it’s smooth sailing fun therapy from there.
At Neuro Rehab VR we provide an entire library of virtual reality applications, or exercises. Each of these exercises is utilized to work on different areas of the body for neuromuscular reeducation. This is your alternative option to working on neuromuscular reeducation compared to traditional therapy methods which can often involve not very engaging, repetitive and tedious movements. For example one of our many exercises, Retail Therapy, is a grocery shopping simulation, a functional activity of daily living. This targets the upper extremity, your functional reaching and range of motion while also working on your balance.
The great part about utilizing VR is that we can precisely control these environments. With the push of a button this exercise fully adapts to the patient’s needs and ability. If they are low level functioning, need to isolate a certain side, or want to work on mirror therapy, the in-game customizations allows the patient to reap the most amount of benefits from just the one therapy session inside the virtual reality exercise.
Other exercises get you playing soccer, dodging canon balls, going through a cafeteria, or making your own pizza. Each exercise has many different use cases. You may use it to focus on the lower extremity, foot control, dynamic standing balance, core control, trunk support, sequencing, weight shifting, gait, functional reaching, or fine motor control skills of the hand. We receive countless requests for other types of exercises and it’s as easy as developing and adding more engaging applications to the library to choose from. We have created applications to work on cognition, match making skills, money management, and social interactions. We have other applications solely focused on alleviating pain, anxiety, stress, or to provide an immersive distraction and give a better quality of life with a new exciting experience.
Data, data, data
Observe and speculate no more. Our team at Neuro Rehab VR has developed one of the most in depth data analytics portals to measure, track, and quantify improvements for each virtual reality exercise. Therapists can now view measurements in degrees for flexion, abduction, horizontal abduction, lateral shifts, wrist flexion, and much more including in game scores and metrics. Therapists can look back and walk away with a proven and quantified understanding of how their patient has improved through their virtual reality sessions.
Virtual Reality for At-Home Therapy
The portability and affordability of headsets like the Oculus Quest really open up the possibilities for using virtual reality outside of a clinical setting. Options include allowing doctors and clinicians to assign virtual reality exercises for their patients to do at home. These doctors and patients can log into a HIPAA secure portal to view their data and see their progress. These headsets can be leased out through a facility, they can be provided by at-home therapist businesses, or the patient themselves can decide to purchase one.
This is almost like the future you see in movies where no one ever has to leave their home, but they are instantly transported to another part of the world through VR. Add some gamification components to some virtual scenarios of activities of daily living and you got yourself a great and fun means to therapy for the majority of people in need. This helps with any patients continuing of care and staying motivated to do those exercises at home. There is no doubt in my mind that in the near future this will be the case for a lot of individuals.
We are going to save the details of each of Neuro Rehab VR’s exercises for another post, another time. But if you are interested in adopting or learning more about this type of technology, Neuro Rehab VR’s specific products, and the applications and exercises we have developed, please feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com - virtual demos are now available!
The shift to adopting this type of technology is happening slowly but surely, as us and other pioneers in this field help to further the research and get it in the hands of more clinicians and therapists. The time is now to start having fun and getting better faster with virtual reality therapy! What are you waiting for?