From Physical Therapist to “Visio-Therapist”

HTC Vive is one of the many ways to teleport patients to another therapeutic world.

Ever since I was a small boy, I have found myself to be a visual person when it comes to entertainment, education, etc. Naturally, I was drawn to films of bright and vibrant color typically found in Japanese animation especially when coupled with a heroic tale. There was just something about the genre that enraptured my mind and naturally, this same interest peaked at all new heights upon my discovery of video games. That’s not to say I no longer enjoyed fine film, but the ability to fully interact within a simulated environment opened a floodgate of dopamine unlike anything I had ever experienced.

When I look back now, most of my highly cherished memories involve video games of some way shape or form. I would even go as far to say I viewed these pieces of man-made fiction as one would a “friend”; always there for me and holding a wonderful experience I could not wait to take a part of. Best of all, I could bring a living, breathing comrade with me to form a “trio” ready to lay waste to any foe or tackle any challenge thrown our way. However, I was not aware that this feeling of fellowship with the inanimate would lead to a serious addiction to escapism from the surrounding world that encapsulated much of my young life.

Fast forward a decade and a college degree later, I’m in a much different place. I took Physical Therapy by trade in the Neurological setting, I’m married, and visual entertainment has been replaced with a newfound enjoyment of the world around me. Instead of taking part in digital odysseys, I was becoming quite the traveler of physical vistas and found them to be much more enticing, magical, and awe-inspiring. Right around this time though, virtual reality technology was surfacing in the mainstream and becoming easily accessible with PlayStation VR, Oculus RIft, and HTC Vive. At first, I was concerned due to the already strong addictive nature video games may have, and I was certainly not prepared for the impact it would have on my early physical therapy journey.

The options for VR in therapy are near limitless.

Through coupling VR technology with tried and true physical therapy interventions, I have seen recovering stroke patients perform feats rivaling Bruce Willis in “Die Hard” via “Super Hot VR”. I’ve seen C5-C7 spinal cord injury patients fearlessly reach outside of their point of stability to slice fruit with Bruce Lee-esque precision with “Fruit Ninja VR”. I’ve seen traumatic brain injury patients utilize their affected side while role-playing as a Jedi in high speed training with “Beat Saber”. Despite these different diagnosis, they have all benefited positively from being in a fully simulated world; they’ve been given a sense of empowerment if you will. While being surrounded in this fully simulated world, it is just them and a very clear goal begging to be accomplished. Sure, they can hear verbal cues or education being spouted from the therapist, but visually speaking, I am not there. The only visual biological life within this world is a virtual representation of their own physical form. THEY are the titular character smashing goals and saving the day in an environment not defined by their diagnosis or current situation; their bias and performance-based expectations aren’t present in this world. Based on my experience with this technology, I am convinced this simulated world, free of the reminders of their diagnosis, subtly abolishes the lingering cloud of negativity and fear that could very well be plaguing or obstructing their path to recovery.

Best of all, something that once was a conduit for isolation and inanimate friendships for me (and others) has now become a bountiful source of positivity that goes beyond mere entertainment. We are talking about cost efficient, fully customizable, therapeutic activities in a fully simulated world away from the usual landscape of a therapy gym with the possibility of removing their bias for improved functional gain. Time will tell rather therapists take heed of this technology, but from now on, you can consider me a “Visio-therapist”