Virtual Rehabilitation: 3 Treatment Applications of VR
When virtual reality (VR) is mentioned in the realm of healthcare, medical VR training is the first VR application mentioned. But, the applications of VR extend far beyond training healthcare practitioners in simulated environments.
Patient care and therapy is another medical field reaping the benefits of virtual reality.
VR as a technology solution is enhancing conventional therapy in stroke patients’ rehabilitation, pain management, and more. This article examines how incorporating VR within conventional therapy is transforming the manner in which patients are receiving treatment.
1. Exposure therapy
Exposure therapy is a behavioral treatment that targets behaviors in response to situations (both physical and mental) that are perceived to be anxiety-provoking or frightening. Often, the type of behavior displayed is avoidance.
Addressing avoidance behavior is necessary because, if left untreated, it can become more extreme. The longer the avoidance behavior persists, the worse the symptoms get. This is particularly true for people who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
This can have a negative result in a person’s quality of life.
Virtual reality exposure therapy
Exposure therapy is only effective if the treatment closely maps the situations that produce PTSD or anxiety. This is not always possible with certain patients. It would be unsafe for a combat veteran, for example, to be exposed to a combat situation again.
This is where virtual reality services come in. VR enables patients undergoing exposure therapy to confront their anxiety-provoking situations in a controlled, computer-generated virtual environment.
In the case of a combat veteran, this environment can be programmed, imitating the feared situation or location. This enables the combat veteran to actively confront the feared situation and address avoidance behavior and improve their quality of life.
Directly confronting feared thoughts or memories through VR can also be effective in treating other anxiety disorders or anxiety-related problems. This can include social anxiety or specific phobias such as claustrophobia (the fear of confined spaces) or arachnophobia (the fear of spiders).
2. Stroke rehabilitation
Stroke is a devastating disease that can greatly reduce a person’s quality of life.
After a stroke, survivors experience diminished functioning, particularly motor deficits. To address motor deficiencies as a result of this neurological injury, rehabilitation must optimize postinjury neuroplasticity in the brain.
For neuroplasticity to occur in stroke survivors, rehabilitation must be task-specific, repetitive, and intensive. Patients must be motivated as these continuous, repetitive movements can be frustrating and monotonous.
Virtual reality stroke rehabilitation
The immersive and interactive experience of virtual reality makes it the ideal technological solution for stroke patients. Patients can use recreational VR therapy to complete customized interactive exercises in an immersive virtual environment.
A gamified rehabilitation environment addresses the monotony of continuous, repetitive movements necessary in rehabilitation.
In addition to gamifying rehabilitation to make it more enjoyable for the patient, VR-based exercise therapy stimulates both the body and brain. The presence of an avatar in the VR space engages the motor cortex within the brain to activate the brain regions affected by the stroke.
This promotes neuroplasticity in the brain, thereby improving the recovery of motor function in stroke patients.
3. Pain management
Patients with chronic or neuropathic pain are often prescribed opioids for pain management. But for patients with moderate-to-severe pain, there is growing concern regarding the use of opioids to treat chronic or neuropathic pain symptoms.
The current global opioid epidemic has many physicians exploring VR technology as a pain management alternative.
Virtual reality distraction therapy
In clinical settings, virtual reality immersion provides a distraction from painful stimuli in patients with acute and chronic pain. The application of VR to treat the perception of pain in both outpatient and inpatient settings has yielded promising results.
In one study, chronic pain patients who underwent a five-minute session using a VR medical application experienced a reduction in pain from pre-session to post-session by 33 percent.
Virtual reality distraction therapy can be used in a variety of settings. This can include chronic pain patients who suffer from phantom limb pain and fibromyalgia. It can also improve the conditions of patients in palliative care and children who must undergo painful procedures such as vaccinations or laceration repair.
Future directions for virtual reality therapy
As evidenced above, virtual reality can be an effective treatment solution for patient care.
Until recently, due to the cost and complexity of VR technology, virtual reality therapy was limited to clinical studies and research labs. With greater adoption rates and recent advances in virtual reality driving down the cost of VR systems, VR therapy is becoming more accessible to everyone.
In a few short years, it is quite plausible to assume that VR therapy can be completed at home with the support of other virtual medicine and a trained medical professional.
AUTHOR BIO :- Judit Chackal is responsible for the marketing, communication and business development efforts of Reach MENA and its sister company, SENSE-R, the leading MENA-based virtual reality developer for VR branding projects and Industrial Training Simulators. She has over a decade of experience in delivering strategic marketing & business development visions for global clients in the travel, hospitality, events and education sectors. Her passion for content and experiential marketing led her to the field of virtual reality project development.