APTA Adds Virtual Reality as a Therapeutic Intervention for Pain
Everyone knows physical therapy is an important component of recovery following surgery, but physical therapists are constantly searching for new, more effective ways to help their patients. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) has recently added one very promising treatment that physical therapists have been using for over 15 years: virtual reality. According to the APTA, virtual reality for chronic pain is a reliable intervention to help patients better manage their symptoms, improve physical function and reduce medication use.
VR has been around for decades with many areas of application, but has been used in the treatment of chronic pain for a little over 15 years. In 1997, Dr. Hunter Hoffman and a team of clinical researchers originated the technique of using immersive virtual reality for pain distraction during painful medical procedures, at Harborview Burn Center in Seattle. That work led to the first controlled study in 2015 that explored whether VR can reduce excessive pain of soldiers who have combat-related burn injuries – that study found that virtual reality was “especially effective for the six patients who scored 7 of 10 or higher (severe to excruciating) on the ‘worst pain’ (pain intensity) ratings.”
Since clinicians and researchers have been able to show that virtual reality is incredibly effective for reducing chronic pain, physical therapists are now looking at other ways in which this technology can be used. Many are excited about being able to use VR to help improve physical function in patients by using immersive applications like virtual rock climbing or tennis training. This doesn’t mean pain specialists will be replacing exercises like squats and lunges with VR, but instead they can use VR to supplement physical therapy by allowing patients to regain physical function in a shorter amount of time.
The future is promising for sufferers of chronic pain. With the development of innovative products like PNE+ and curriculum and training that teaches physical therapists how to effectively utilize virtual reality in treatment plans for patients with acute and chronic pain, it’s clear that VR is going to become an important tool for pain specialists everywhere.