A Patient’s Perspective: How Virtual Reality is Changing Physical Therapy

Physical therapy

A Walk through the Rehabilitation Process using Traditional Physical Therapy Methods vs. Virtual Reality – Assisted Healing

You need surgery after injuring your neck. As you plan for your surgery you consider how this will affect your daily routine, the time you’ll need to take off school or work and how you’re going to get around.

Although the extent of your injury, overall health, and the invasiveness of your surgical procedure will be key factors in determining recovery time, one of the most crucial aspects of healing is rehabilitation.

You’ve probably been through physical therapy in the past, or perhaps watched someone close to you go through it. You know it might be repetitive, painful and at times, seemingly useless. Attending the sessions and performing the same motions over and over again can seem unappealing at best, ineffective at worst.

However, Physical Therapy is of Extreme Importance

Why? It helps reduce pain, improves mobility, achieves faster healing, accelerates recovery times, retrains muscles and minimizes atrophy post-surgery, to name just a few of the major reasons why.

But even though you know the benefits of physical therapy, statistics show that you aren’t likely to stick with it. It is difficult to see, as a patient, the benefits of these seemingly boring exercises.

Now imagine yourself, post-surgery, walking into your physical therapist’s office. You are given a regimen of exercises to perform in-office for evaluation by the clinician and a take-home-program to further aid your healing. According to many statistics, only around 35% of people perform the prescribed set of exercises or even show up to all of their physical therapy appointments.

Enter Virtual Reality

Let’s paint a different picture; before surgery, you meet with your physical therapist. They give you a few simple instructions and strap a Virtual Reality (VR) headset on. You go through the simulation, which consists largely of playing games that encourage movement. Behind the scenes, the movements you make are being recorded and a baseline is established.

You walk into physical therapy post-surgery, already knowing what to expect and go to “work” playing these games right away. Even though you realize that you’re unable to perform as well as you could before the surgery, you still enjoy yourself nonetheless. You walk away from your recovery session feeling happy, encouraged, and somewhat excited to return.

In the near future, you’ll even be able to do those exercises at home with your own VR headset. Each time you step into VR for your therapy session, whether at home or at your office, you find the sessions easier and easier as you recover. It’s definitely an enjoyable experience.

Now, which scenario seems more appealing to you? Which scenario promotes patient compliance and better analytics for the physical therapy professional to review?

The answer is clear — VR is the future of physical therapy.


Jackie Hansen is a freelance writer. She lives in Utah where she writes and enjoys keeping up with the latest in healthcare and technology.

For more articles on how VR is changing healthcare and other industries, make sure to check the VRHealth Blog.
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