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Virtual Reality in Physical Therapy


Technology within multiple fields is consistently evolving, only continuing to pave the way for more technological innovations in the future. One field in which new technology is rapidly being developed is the medical field. From producing new, unique ways for treating cancer to developing safe, effective vaccines against COVID-19, the technology being developed for medicine is truly unparalleled. One example of a more current medical innovation is the utilization of virtual reality for physical therapy.


Virtual reality, commonly referred to as “VR,” incorporates complex technology to allow individuals to feel as if they are living and/or playing within a type of technologically developed world. The use of VR is prominent in the video game industry. Scientists have decided to harness the joy and entertainment that comes from using VR for video games into physical therapy (PT). They are ultimately hoping that patients will have similar positive experiences with the tech during their healing process.


In a New York Times article published earlier this past summer, patients utilizing VR for rehabilitation purposes explained that they truly enjoyed partaking in their physical therapy with the tech and felt more motivated to complete their sessions as well. A patient noted that the variety in session types was also appealing, with many of the sessions being focused on enhancing relaxation and limiting stress for patients. In addition, it was noted that incorporating VR into the medical industry has become increasingly popular as a result of greater acceptance of telehealth due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


A different scientific paper published in June this year by Reilly et al., 2021 utilized an actual study design to investigate the effects of virtual reality-based physical therapy on those undergoing PT for injuries to their lower extremities. The PT employed involved a pre-survey regarding demographic information and past experiences in PT and then later involvement with a game centered on exercise. The “VR-PT” program itself included an orientation to learn how to utilize the program, a training session regarding correct exercise form, and a virtual game once again centered on exercise. When patients were questioned regarding the level of their enjoyment of the VR-based rehabilitation exercises, the average response was a 7.5 out of 10, with 1 indicating the least enjoyment and 10 indicating the greatest enjoyment.


Ultimately, it is clear that the role of virtual reality in the medical field, specifically in the realm of PT, is quite promising. PT could truly become a more enjoyable process accessible to many patients in need in the near future.


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Thank you for reading!

Aprile Bertomo


Works Cited:

  1. Tugend, Alina. “Meet Virtual Reality, Your New Physical Therapist.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 21 Apr. 2021, www.nytimes.com/2021/04/21/health/virtual-reality-therapy.html.

  2. Reilly, Clifford A. MPH∗; Greeley, Aimee Burnett PT, MPH; Jevsevar, David S. MD, MBA; Gitajn, Ida Leah MD, MS Virtual reality-based physical therapy for patients with lower extremity injuries: feasibility and acceptability, OTA International: June 2021 - Volume 4 - Issue 2 - p e132 doi: 10.1097/OI9.0000000000000132


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