When it comes to technology, virtual reality is a hot trend making its way into the medical field.
It’s like a high-tech game, with patients “playing” rehab programs that specifically challenge 24 different deficits.
For example, a stroke patient stretches out a weak arm and maneuvers objects on the screen while at the same time focusing on improving visual neglect. And to improve sequencing and planning of movement, computer-generated prompts and sounds can initiate the activity.
“When you compare yesterday’s rehab to today’s technology, it’s evident that patients are more engaged in their outcomes,” says Brain Rosenberg, physical therapist at Bioness.
The research, led by PhD candidate Maria Matsangidou from EDA, set out to determine how using VR while exercising could affect performance by measuring a raft of criteria: heart rate, including pain intensity, perceived exhaustion, time to exhaustion and private body consciousness.
To do this they monitored 80 individuals performing an isometric bicep curl set at 20% of the maximum weight they could lift, which they were then asked to hold for as long as possible. Half of the group acted as a control group who did the lift and hold inside a room that had a chair, a table and yoga mat on the floor.
The VR group were placed in the same room with the same items. They then put on a VR headset and saw the same environment, including a visual representation of an arm and the weight (see image below). They then carried out the same lift and hold as the non-VR group.
Eran Orr needed physical therapy, but he found out the hard way that it wasn’t easy to do. Physical therapy is always a big part of rehabilitation, but no one wants to do the exercises. It’s hard to book an appointment with a good therapist. And it’s hard to know what is really working.
So Orr founded VRPhysio, a Tel Aviv, Israel-based company that enables patients to do physical therapy in VR. VR Physio is one of about 90 augmented reality and VR companies in Israel. The company was one of a handful of Israeli companies that presented at an event hosted by Orange Fab Accelerator and the government of Israel’s economic mission in San Francisco.
The company has created a clinical solution that is registered as a measurement device with the Food and Drug Administration. The PC-based VR platform can be used to help patients deal with such ailments as whiplash from car accidents. In a demo, Orr showed how you can — while wearing a VR headset — look upward at some barrels. You fill the barrels with water, exercising your neck. On average, whiplash victims have to go to 30 physical therapy sessions, Orr said.
The University of South Florida in Tampa is now the first non-Department of Defense institution to offer an innovative virtual reality environment that can help patients improve mobility and provide clinicians with detailed information to help the patients improve, according to a recent article for public radio station WUSF.
The $1 million system, called the Computer Assisted Rehabilitation Environment (CAREN), uses a split-belt treadmill, 6 degree platform and a large screen that wraps itself nearly 180 degrees around the user while motion sensor cameras monitor movements and feed data into computers. The virtual reality scenarios can be programmed to simulate movement through real-world environments—a trail walk through a forest, for instance—or more gamelike settings, such as piloting a boat through a slalom course by leaning in different directions.