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Virtual reality in physical therapy?

Virtual reality is the use of interactive simulations created with computer technology that is designed to give patients the opportunity to engage in environments that feel real and similar to real world objects and events (Wang 2011) Researchers are interested in studying the effect virtual reality experiences can have on rehabilitation in various conditions because they believe it offers a challenging yet safe environment for patients (Wang 2011). In patients with burn injuries, virtual reality may also decrease the need for pain medications which can have multiple side effects and are typically needed while undergoing physical therapy (Schmitt 2011).

Already, studies have shown that virtual reality can be helpful in improving speed of movement in patients with Parkinson’s Disease, reducing pain during treatment of patients with burns, improving walking mechanics in patients with amputations, and improving balance in patients after a stroke. Research on virtual reality is challenging to conduct because the technology is changing faster than researchers can study it to determine if it is effective in treatments. Keep your eyes out for more news on virtual reality in the future!



Darter BJ, Wilken JM. Gait training with virtual reality-based real-time feedback: improving gait performance following transfemoral amputation. Phys Ther. 2011; July 14 [Epub ahead of print]

Wang CY, Hwang WJ, Fang JJ, Sheu CF, Leong IF, Ma HI. Comparison of virtual reality versus physical reality on movement characteristics of persons with Parkinson's disease: effects of moving targets. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 2011; 92(8):1238-1245.

Snider L, Majnemer A, Darsaklis V. Virtual reality as a therapeutic modality for children with cerebral palsy. Dev Neurorehabil. 2010; 13(2): 120-128.

Morris LD, Louw QA, Grimmer-Somers K. The effectiveness of virtual reality on reducing pain and anxiety in burn injury patients: a systematic review. Clin J Pain. 2009; 25(9):815-826.              

Kim JH, Jang SH, Kim CS, Jung JH, You JH. Use of virtual reality to enhance balance and ambulation in chronic stroke: a double-blind, randomized controlled study. Am J Phys Med Rehabil.2009; 88(9):693-701.

Schmitt YS, Hoffman HG, Blough DK, et al. A randomized, controlled trial of immersive virtual reality analgesia, during physical therapy for pediatric burns. Burns. 2011;37(1):61-68.

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