Virtual reality rehabilitation is a type of technology that involves the use of computer software and hardware, together with input from a patient, with the aim of assisting in the rehabilitation of that patient. Virtual reality is a type of alternate reality that is linked or parallel to a present reality. A person using virtual reality technology might be able to simulate the effects of an activity in a virtual environment, while going through the motions in the present. For instance, a person might be running in place, but through the aid of virtual reality technology, it might seem to the person that he or she is running in a marathon. This is because such an effect has been simulated through the effects of a computer-generated alternate reality.
This type of alternate reality has been exploited for use in the medical world to help in the rehabilitation of certain categories of sick or wounded people. For instance, virtual reality rehabilitation can be used to assist in the rehabilitation of an amputee who is trying to master the use of a prosthetic limb. The technology works by allowing the amputee to practice the use of the prosthetic limb in different situations conjured through virtual reality technology. Such situations may include simulations involving the climbing of stairs, walking on sand, dancing and other movements. The principal aim of this type of rehabilitation is to increase the flexibility, dexterity, motor skills and confidence of the patient. Most of the simulated motions may not be realistic enough to the patient in the limited environment of a physical therapy room.
Another use of virtual reality rehabilitation is to retrain the brain to perform certain functions that may have been impaired due to accidents involving blows or trauma to the brain. For instance, some people may forget how to walk or drive following a traumatic brain injury. Using the virtual reality technology, a patient may slowly start to learn how to perform these tasks once again through the stimulation of his or her brain cells from performing the virtual equivalent of these tasks.
The skills relearned or newly acquired from performing different tasks during virtual reality rehabilitation may be translated to the real or physical world under the direction of a physiotherapist or other professional trained to assist in the rehabilitation of such injured or sick people. Only properly licensed professionals may conduct this type of rehabilitation, because improper use might actually lead to a relapse or more damage for the individual.