Virtual rehabilitation makes use of computer programs that run virtual reality environments in order to aid in the treatment of a variety of different disorders. One of the most common uses for this type of treatment is as a part of a patient's physical therapy when he or she is recovering from a serious injury to the body or brain or learning to cope with a limited range of mobility as the result of a stroke or degenerative disease. Patients suffering from phobias or post-traumatic stress disorder can also use virtual rehabilitation as a way to interact with their fears in a safe environment. Therapy for drug or alcohol addicts can also include some amount of virtual rehabilitation.
There are a few different types of virtual rehabilitation available to patients. In most cases, patients receive some of their treatment through virtual reality and some of it through traditional means, though it is possible for a patient to receive all of their therapy virtually. Virtual rehabilitation may be completely immersive, meaning that the patient sees and feels the virtual world through the use of a helmet-mounted screen and force-feedback gloves that apply pressure to the patient's hand when he or she touches a virtual object. These systems are rare and expensive to set up and maintain, however, so most virtual rehabilitation is conducted through the use of computer monitors and traditional input devices, such as joysticks, mice, and keyboards.
As a part of physical therapy, virtual rehabilitation allows patients to practice movements without the risk of injury or any other real-world consequences if a task is failed. A patient learning how to pick up a glass after suffering a stroke may, for example, practice picking up a virtual glass through the use of a motion capture interface until the task can be successfully completed and the patient can move on on to a real glass. A patient learning to operate a joystick controlled wheelchair might practice on a computer simulated wheel chair to reduce the risk of crashing the device.
Psychological treatments can also be administered through the use of virtual rehabilitation. Patients who are extremely anxious in certain environments or those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder can often benefit from some controlled exposure to the situation that triggers the fear response. Of course, returning a soldier to a battlefield would not be safe, so this environment can be simulated through the use of virtual rehabilitation. Patients in therapy for other disorders, such as alcoholism can also practice making good choices in safe, virtual environments.