Amazing Virtual Reality for Pain Relief and Rehab – 5 Benefits

Active Pokémon Go players walked an extra 5–6 miles per week!! 

That’s how virtual reality increased the step count and reduced the sitting time of a heavily sedentary generation!

Introduction to Virtual Reality for Rehab

Virtual reality is a promising avenue to enhance physical therapy rehab! It is a simulated, immersive, lifelike experience that offers all the benefits of an open environment without the safety concerns of the real world! That’s surely an exciting space to be in!

Virtual Reality: Augmented Rehab!

From gaming platforms to fully immersive studios, physiotherapists are excitedly stepping into this vast arena! VR has the potential to significantly transform the field of rehabilitation.

  • Stroke 
  • Traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries
  • Balance and gait training
  • Vertigo
  • Chronic pain
  • Osteoarthritis 
  • Post-obese surgeries

Virtual reality headsets can block real-world sensory stimuli, which makes them distinct from traditional screens. Highly realistic graphics, a large field of view resembling normal vision, and directional audio create a lifelike interactive world for the user! An escape from reality, indeed!

Interactive virtual reality enables the user’s actual presence in an artificial space. Hand motion controllers and multisensory inputs allow the user to move, run, and jump through this world of make-believe! One can only imagine how empowered a person with limited mobility in the actual world must feel in this hyper-realistic world!

VR for pain relief:

The use of virtual reality in rehab is still in its exploratory phase. VR is a good distractive therapy; it supposedly works by allowing the person to relax in an interactive, calm, and happy place. Research shows such distractions can successfully divert attention from painful procedures like changing burn wound dressings and labor. People interacting with the virtual environment showed much better results than those just passively viewing a screen. 

VR platforms like Second Life transported people into interactive, happy places where they were able to distract themselves from a painful procedure. Complex regional pain syndrome found benefits from guided meditation in virtual calm environments.

Overall, high-fidelity graphics gave much better results, i.e., the more interactive and realistic the environment, the greater the benefits! As technology advances, the cost of high-fidelity games may decrease, and we can hope for their return in traditional rehab!

VR in stroke rehab:

Getting your hands to function after a stroke can be a long and difficult process. VR technology has stepped in to deliver enhanced feedback about movements and improved learning of fine movements.

Tasks connected a computer workstation to a 3D motion-tracking system, projecting virtual scenarios on a wall. The virtual environment asked people to enact various day-to-day tasks. We observed effective recovery with more relatable tasks in attractive and pleasant environments! Traditional exercises need a high volume of repetitions and tend to get monotonous. Hyper-realistic, varied environments seemed to retain interest through these tedious repetitions and make prolonged sessions more enjoyable! Such tasks’ goal-oriented nature encouraged problem-solving and learning retention.

The biggest advantage of practicing in simulated virtual environments is the safety they offer. You could practice activities like crossing the street and driving a vehicle repeatedly without supervision—a great way to relearn new skills before trying them out in the real world!

VR in older adults:

Care for the elderly is a huge part of healthcare, with considerations needed for safe and effective rehabilitation techniques. Balance training for fall prevention is a significant aspect of geriatric care, and VR has the potential to revolutionize this area!

Your Shape: Fitness Evolved is an interactive fitness product that tracks movements while you workout. It offers several warm-up routines, running and strength training games, and a yoga experience! A study used a game program along with conventional physiotherapy to train balance in older adults. Researchers found it to be a safe and enjoyable alternative that elders could perform in the comfort of their own homes!

A virtual reality-mediated gamified program, along with VR-guided meditation, has shown positive effects on both pain and balance in older people with osteoarthritis. People were able to participate in meaningful daily activities for about 2 days after a VR meditation session! 

Ongoing research seeks to look at how virtual reality can make our aging population recover faster from joint replacement surgeries, post-fracture surgeries, and degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s. 

VR in vertigo treatment:

Have you gotten up from the bed too fast and experienced spinning? Do quick head turns make you dizzy? You might be experiencing vertigo—a frustrating symptom indeed. Physical therapists traditionally treat positional vertigo with targeted head and neck movements and gaze-stabilizing eye exercises.

These people used head-mounted VR devices for game-based rehabilitation. This valuable addition to the usual protocol had benefits lasting up to a year! People significantly improved their balance and got habituated to movements that previously made them dizzy! VR makes safe exposure to unpredictable situations possible!

VR in Orthopedic disorders:

VR is shaping up to be a promising addition to the rehabilitation of neck and shoulder injuries. Researchers successfully used head-mounted displays to fine-tune neck movements. For people with shoulder impingement, off-the-shelf Nintendo-Wii Fit games simulate boxing, bowling, and tennis, providing superior shoulder control.

People are increasingly using the Nintendo Wii Fit to retrain proprioception after ankle sprains! This is a great option to clock more unsupervised hours of balance training, a crucial factor in the complete recovery of the sprained ankle. Such games also challenged reaction times and influenced agility.

Therapists have also tried to tackle the ever-challenging low back pain with VR-gamified rehab. However, research using games from Nintendo Wii Fit and an immersive horse-riding simulation appears to be inconclusive. We need several more experiments to see if VR can solve the back pain conundrum!

VR to increase physical activity

Do I dare to mention screen usage and increased physical activity in a single sentence? Well, that’s what therapists are attempting to do! 

People with respiratory disorders used immersive and semi-immersive race-based games to improve their physical activity. These competitive and engaging races increased their physical activity levels! This formula also proved true for facilitating safe activity levels in cardiac surgery patients!

Pokémon Go, a hugely popular game, made people set out on adventurous walking trips, which improved their step counts and time spent moving! Undoubtedly, it had an unanticipated positive impact! Of course, all these counts dropped the moment they stopped playing the game, proving that technology is no substitute for inner motivation! 

Surprisingly, smoking cessation programs saw the benefits of VR! Individuals appeared driven to emulate their unbeatable virtual non-smoking avatar! They were sufficiently convinced to adhere to the abstinence routines.

Interactive treatments where the patient is an active participant have always proved superior; VR just stepped up the whole game with a new level of possible interaction! 

Immersive games with multiple sensory stimuli allow the person to feel an actual presence in an imaginary environment. This is an environment where he can be whatever he wants, fashion his online persona without regard for physical restrictions, and feel a sense of achievement as he checks goals along a virtual journey!


VR is thus a powerful upcoming tool to make rehab more relatable, engaging, and fun. There are technological and financial constraints to sort out, but virtual reality seems set to augment physical therapy soon! 

Your next session will undoubtedly take place in a futuristic world where your avatar guides you to recovery!

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