Beyond Gaming: Virtual Reality Is Now A Therapy Tool

To most of the growing population, the term “virtual reality” is synonymous with the gaming industry. Though the headsets may be viewed as a toy, physical therapy practitioners see them as tools for therapeutic methods. Can such a novel approach really work in rehabilitation?

First, consider the fact that virtual reality headsets block out real-world situations, forcing the wearer to be motivated to participate in whatever program is set before their eyes. Plus, you may undergo therapy through a virtual reality clinic and work remotely with licensed therapists.

Mindfulness, Anxiety, Phobias, and PTSD

Virtual reality supports mindfulness practices by creating calming settings to focus on. Imagine walking through a peaceful meadow or lounging on a  sandy beach surrounded by rippling blue waters. A space outside of the daily noise is an ideal place to meditate and recharge. In cases where sessions are geared to those suffering from anxiety, phobias, and PTSD, clients may be exposed to anxiety-inducing virtual environments, allowing therapists to see and hear what the client is experiencing. If the level is overwhelming, the client can retreat to a less stressful level of treatment, repeat until he or she is comfortable with the situation, or take off the headset and exit the virtual world.

Neurological Conditions

Some neurological diagnoses that could benefit from the use of virtual reality include Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, stroke, and multiple sclerosis. By engaging in a virtual reality program, patients may improve upper or lower coordination and balance.

Orthopedic Problems

If you are experiencing pesky shoulder pain, a physical therapy session with a virtual reality device could be a more conducive way to manage chronic pain on your own time and at your own pace. Other orthopedic conditions that can benefit from a VR session are ankle sprains, knee or hip issues, back and neck pain.

Vestibular Rehab

When it comes to our vestibular system, think the coordination of head and eye movements. An impairment to the vestibular system may cause vertigo and difficulty staying upright. Videos of cars racing by or the up and down motion of roller coasters, for example, challenge visual input and nerves to help maintain an upright position.

As for therapy clinics, there are some providers which allow insurance coverage for VR therapy. Over at XR.Health, for example, you get to choose and meet your therapist via an online appointment. A kit containing a headset tailored for the appropriate medical applications, along with two hand controls, will be shipped to your home. Their applications are designed to assist in recovery and measure performance. One caveat with XRHealth is that services are currently provided in only seven states with a commitment to add more.

Clearly, virtual reality is not just for gaming and provides an intriguing new solution for those seeking physical therapy or those who simply want to reduce the stress brought on by life’s circumstances.

-Sharon Oliver

Photo by Barbara Zandoval on Unsplash


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