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Virtual Reality in Physical Therapy

Editorial Team July 30, 2019 Comments Off on Virtual Reality in Physical Therapy
Virtual Reality in Physical Therapy

Although advances in technology have impacted many parts of the medical field, physical therapy is one that’s often left out of the conversation. Unlike other medical niches that heavily rely on technology, physical therapy has historically emphasized the physical portion of medicine (after all, it’s in the name). However, with the introduction of virtual reality, physical therapists are often able to bridge the gap like never before between the physical and technological parts of medicine.

Below we will dive into the positive impact virtual reality technology has had on physical therapy and the benefits of VR for both the patients and therapists.

Improve Patient Motivation

The most common reason physical therapy is ineffective is due to the patient’s lack of compliance with their exercise regimen. Although patients often have weekly or bi-weekly appointments, physical therapists frequently assign “homework” to patients outside of appointment times. Unlike school homework that involves textbooks and essays, PT homework requires patients to practice certain exercises at home.

Unfortunately, these exercises are not always mentally stimulating, and patients can get bored and not complete them. Luckily, with the introduction of virtual reality physical therapy, patients can be transported anywhere in the world to complete their exercises. Walking on a treadmill? With virtual reality, you can walk through a rainforest or beach—which is much more motivating than staring at a wall in a doctor’s office or your home.

Before virtual reality was brought into the medical field, it was used for pure fun! Thankfully, the gamification element of VR is still present when patients use it in physical therapy. Many physical therapy programs that use virtual reality incorporate rewards and skill progression bonuses to make progress a fun and exciting achievement, keeping patients motivated.

Obviously, the motivation gained through VR is beneficial to a patient’s health, and physical therapists have a higher success rate when their patients are motivated, making virtual reality a win for both patients and therapists.

Ease of Learning

Throughout a physical therapy program, a physical therapist will update exercises and make them more challenging as the patient progresses. Typically, this would cause the patient to be frustrated because as soon as they master one move, they’re introduced to another one and have to learn it from scratch. However, virtual reality devices make these transitions much easier by analyzing the data gained from the patient’s movements and adjusting their program accordingly to speed up the learning process.

In other words, the immersive environment of VR physical therapy allows patients to learn new exercises while simultaneously working to reduce the muscle memory of the old, no-longer-useful exercises or bad habits. With virtual reality, the patient is able to focus on the results and effects of their movements, as opposed to the movement itself. This speeds up the patient’s recovery process and makes their physical therapy journey a much more pleasant one.

Improvements in Motor Learning

While it’s true that many physical therapy patients are recovering from traumas that have affected their physical strength, there are physical therapy patients that are disabled and struggle with smaller movements and motor skills. The introduction of virtual reality for physical therapy has allowed therapists to focus on these patients like never before.

The implementation of VR in physical therapy has lead to huge technological developments, like the creation of modular controllers for patients with disabilities. These controllers allow patients to use their limbs and heads to engage in a physical therapy program that previously their disability would have prevented them from participating in.

Additionally, there are interactive VR programs that involve the patient directly, instead of the therapist prompting the patient for every exercise. These VR programs help the patient develop their speaking skills and work on their fine motor skills. This VR functionality is especially useful for children because the physical therapy program will feel like a game!

Start Training to Become a Physical Therapy Aide

If you find using VR technology in physical therapy interesting, you should consider starting a career as a Physical Therapy Aide. Our Physical Therapy Aide course will prepare you for an entry-level position in a physical therapy office, where you can help patients progress in their virtual reality therapy programs. Start your training and your new career today!

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