By: Soey Park for Body1
Recently, health care facilities have begun to incorporate virtual rehabilitation systems into traditional therapy methods to help patients regain function. These systems have been shown to both provide physical therapists with quantitative data, as well as improve patients’ balance, coordination, muscle strength and range of motion.
One such health care facility is the Beth Abraham Family of health Services located in New York City. As one of the first health care facilities in New York City to offer virtual rehabilitation, the Beth Abraham Family center uses GestureTek Health’s Interactive Rehabilitation and Exercise System (IREX). This particular system featuring several different clinician-selected programs to immerse patients into a virtual sport or gaming environment, such as soccer, snowboarding or laundry-sorting games.
Benefits of Virtual Rehabilitation:
Allows the therapist to control the region of the body that will be targeted during simulation.
Therapist is able to increase/decrease the level of intensity based on the patient’s capabilities.
Fun for patients – promotes greater compliance and increases therapeutic output.
Encourages patients to use their body weight to perform closed kinematic exercises, which is safer with the transfer of movement to a functional task being faster and more enhanced than with traditional therapy.
The patient is put in a “computer-generated world that allows for isolated or combined joint movement or even full-bodied functional movements… [while] the system also compiles data based on these movements for the therapist,” Randy Palmaira told Orthopedics Today. Palmaira is the corporate director of rehabilitation at the Beth Abraham Family of Health Services.
Designed to test out single joints, combined joint movement, or full body function, the different clinician-selected programs are intended to help guide patients through clinician-prescribed therapeutic exercise regimes. Using immersive video gesture control technology to measure patients’ movements, this touch-free system also incorporates the use of a virtual goniometer, which is displayed on-screen.
Goniometers are used in physical therapy as a tool for measuring the axis and range of motion of the injury. Using a virtual goniometer eliminates the need for a therapist to interrupt the patient’s movements to take goniometric measurements. A bell can be set to ring when patients have reached specific functional targets, such as 90° of knee flexion, while the deflection mode allows you to track the amount of force a patient is exerting. At the end of each session a report is printed detailing the patient’s accuracy during the program.
Unlike virtual reality entertainment systems, the IREX system projects a real-time camera image of the patient on screen rather than an animated character. What makes this system different from other rehabilitation programs is its ability to incorporate cognitive, functional and physical functioning into a comprehensive, clinician-controlled exercise system.
Palmaira explains that virtual rehabilitation systems can be beneficial for patients who have neurological impairment, undergone an amputation, or had any surgical procedure that resulted in weight-bearing restrictions (i.e. fractures, total hip replacements, total knee replacements).
“Oftentimes, what we observe is that after three sessions, the patients will improve their balance,” Palmaira said. Because transfer of knowledge and function are essential to rehabilitation, it is crucial that therapists explain to patients how the movements used during a session of simulated games, such as leaning forward and weight shifting, can be transferred to daily functional tasks like walking and balance.
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