Mobile applications, wearables, tablets, interoperable platforms for sharing real-time information – some of the biggest game-changers in healthcare technology began as consumer-driven products. While augmented and virtual reality are nothing new, they are finally going beyond entertainment and making their way into the world of health and wellness. And physical therapy patients seem to be benefiting the most from this gaming technology.
Often confused with virtual reality (a completely artificial environment generated by a computer), augmented reality is most common – as it only enhances an existing reality, layering digital components onto the world around us. Both of these technologies open a realm of possibilities that are only beginning to be explored, and physical therapists are already seeing the positive effects of having innovative ways to get their patients moving.
So how exactly are virtual and augmented reality transforming the rehabilitation industry?
A Drug-Free Alternative To Pain Management
Studies have shown that patients using immersive virtual reality as a therapy tool reported less pain due to being distracted by the technology. The ability to keep patients active while distracting them with virtual gaming environments should certainly be considered, especially among those preferring a drug-free alternative to pain reduction.
It’s found particular success among stroke survivors. With up to 75% of stroke patients suffering from mobility problems, studies have found that those using virtual reality games for rehabilitation were 4.9 times more likely to improve their upper body strength compared to using standard therapy.
Provides A Front-Row Seat To Anatomy
Physical therapy practices often focus on the movements and exercises needed in order to help patients to strengthen and heal. This is still (and always will be) the focus of rehabilitation, but the future is more immersive.
Imagine running on a treadmill with a real-time projection of your body on a screen. As you run, you see your muscles and bones working together to move correctly. It’s no longer about feeling the pain – patients are now able to see exactly where it’s located, why it occurs and what movements create a reduction and help to heal.
The Computer Assisted Rehabilitation ENvironment (CAREN) is a great example of the technology available today and is a glimpse into an innovative PT future, creating sensory environments that analyze the entire rehabilitation process.
Translates Movement Into Game Play
The biggest benefit to bringing virtual and augmented reality to PT is that it allows patients to have fun during their routine stretching and strengthening. Any physical therapy patient knows that success comes with consistency, but with consistency comes ritual – and making that ritual enjoyable will only help patients reach their goals faster.
GestureTek, the pioneer for immersive gesture control technology for healthcare and rehab, is blazing the trail for gamifying physiotherapy. Their Interactive Rehabilitation and Exercise (IREX) system incorporates interactive gaming elements that allow patients to virtually enter computer-generated video games, creating an alternate reality where the physical therapy experience is not only fun – but also revolutionized.
These innovative approaches to giving patients the opportunity to enter virtual worlds for more immersive rehab is just the beginning. The future of virtual and augmented reality in rehabilitation will perfect the way these systems develop and evaluate motor learning – changing forever the realities of physical therapy.