The inclusion of virtual reality in physical therapy treatments is still in the works, but already has a lot of interest and promise for the engagement of patients. Particularly with younger patients, the use of virtual reality promotes higher engagement rates in activities. By posing an exercise or stretch as a game or activity in the virtual reality, younger patients are not only more engaged, but are also excited to complete their therapy treatments.
As the technology behind virtual reality advances, more studies show positive results of the inclusion in physical therapy. Google, Microsoft, and Facebook are all working individually on virtual reality. The program is called Interactive Rehabilitation and Exercise System, or IREX. IREX makes physical therapy into a game of sorts for patients. In addition to making physical therapy more fun and engaging for young patients, this could be a huge leap forward for stroke patients. Using virtual reality would take a whole new level to mirror therapy because they would be able to “see” themselves performing actions similar to the goal of mirror therapy.
Northeastern’s very own assistant professor Danielle Levac, who has a Ph.D in Rehabilitation science has been involved in some of the research and development of virtual reality. Levac is the director of the Rehabilitation Games and Virtual Reality (ReGameVR) Laboratory at Northeastern. She and some students are completing studies on what areas of physical therapy this form of treatment may be beneficial for and what areas it may cause problems for. Specifically, they focus on motor learning, balance, and functional movement. Levac emphasized that the specific games would be specifically chosen and some may even be created by the physical therapists to achieve the goal for the patients being treated.