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Virtual Reality Makes Physiotherapy Possible at Home

Virtual reality (VR) technology could be utilised by physiotherapy patients to perform their exercises at home. Researchers at WMG, University of Warwick, are making such an eventuality possible by combining three-dimensional motion capture and VR.

Physiotherapy patients are now simply instructed to perform their entire schedule of exercises at home regularly. Yet, they do not get any proper guidance regarding the exercises outside a clinic environment. Patients have to make do with visual tools such as photographs and sketches to perform their exercises. The problem with this conventional approach is, people are not completely sure if a particular exercise is being done right.

Virtual reality technology has gained prominence along with three-dimensional motion capture in recent times. Combining both technology forms facilitates precise real movement captures to be carried over to a character within a virtual setting. Institute of Digital Healthcare researchers at WMG, University of Warwick, are currently investigating if the technology can be implemented for guiding physiotherapy patients. The idea is to create a virtual physiotherapist at home for showing patients how the exercises are performed.

The researchers have published their inputs on the subject in a paper named ‘Timing and correction of stepping movements with a virtual reality avatar.’ It was published in the PLOS ONE journal on February 28. The paper dissected if physiotherapy patients are capable of following virtual avatar movements.

Physiotherapy is now possible at home with VR. Image source: universityofwarwick

The team of researchers directed their efforts into exploring if people were able to coordinate precisely and follow an avatar’s movements within a virtual environment. They asked participants to take time-synchronised steps whilst observing the avatar with a virtual reality headset.

During the experiment, the researchers slightly sped up or slowed down the single steps of the avatar. This was done without informing the participants, thereby prompting them to adjust the pace of their own steps to stay synchronised. How this correction affected the timing and adjustment of steps with respect to the avatar were evaluated.

Omar Khan of WMG, University of Warwick, is the lead author of the research study. He explained how the evaluation of a patient being able to follow the VR-based guidance was carried out. According to Khan, participants seen correcting their steps to stay in sync with the avatar were considered as able to follow movements precisely.

Khan highlighted that the participants faltered in the task of matching step timings in the presence of visual information. He also revealed that the level of precision improved when some lifelike footstep sounds accompanied the visual information. This move bumped up the level of multisensory information received by the participants, resulting in them being following the avatar with greater precision.

According to Dr. Mark Elliott, the project’s principal investigator at WMG, University of Warwick, emphasized the significant potential of consumer-grade virtual reality technologies to enhance physiotherapy exercises. He added that such technologies also raised interest in the exercises. Elliott highlighted that the study has focused on the aspect of how good people are at following a virtual guide.

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