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Virtual reality is an emerging area of physical therapy.

There is much still to learn about the use of virtual reality in physical therapy patient care, but it's already being used to address pain and other issues.

What Is Virtual Reality?

Virtual reality refers to a computer-generated simulation of an environment that immerses users in a lifelike experience. It typically involves the use of a headset and often incorporates auditory feedback to enhance immersion.

Virtual reality presents a promising avenue for enhancing physical therapy interventions, offering immersive experiences tailored to individual patient needs.

Using VR in Physical Therapy Settings

Virtual reality can be used in various settings within physical rehabilitation:

  • Home health physical therapy.
  • Hospice and palliative care.
  • Hospital settings and physical therapy.
  • Primary care.
  • Private practice.
  • Pro bono physical therapy services.
  • School-based physical therapy.
  • Physical therapy in skilled nursing facilities.
  • Travel physical therapy.

Conditions Addressed by VR in Physical Therapy

There are a wide range of conditions where VR can be beneficial in a physical rehabilitation:

  • Stroke
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Low back pain
  • Balance
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Neurological conditions (e.g., Parkinson disease, multiple sclerosis)
  • Vestibular disorders
  • Orthopedic rehabilitation (e.g., post-surgery recovery, musculoskeletal injuries)
  • Chronic pain

Integration of New Technology: Equipment and Training

Typical equipment for VR in physical rehabilitation:

  • VR headsets (e.g., HTC Vive, Pico, Meta Quest).
  • Tracking systems (e.g., sensors, cameras, controllers).
  • Optional: Ability to integrate outside equipment (e.g., TheraBands, dowel rods, weights).

Training staff for VR implementation:

  • Familiarization with VR hardware and software.
  • Understanding the application of VR in different therapy protocols.
  • Hands-on practice sessions with VR equipment.
  • Continued education on advancements in using VR technology for physical therapy.

Questions to Ask Before Purchase

Payment is most commonly a capital purchase.

  • What patient population will the product help me address?
  • What is the goal of my practice by bringing in this modality?
  • What implementation support does the company provide?
  • Will this product help with efficiencies in the practice? How will it impact workflow?
  • Are there warranties available for the product or equipment?
  • How does this product contribute to the company’s competitive advantage or market position?

Research Supporting the Use of VR in Physical Rehabilitation

Interested in Learning More About VR in Physical Rehabilitation?

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High Tech May See Wide Release, but PTs Remain Feature Attraction

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APTA says there needs to be a real, live PT involved to evaluate patients and help them get the most benefit from any technology.