VR Rehabilitation [A Step-By-Step Guide]

Virtual Reality (VR) is a great tool for physical and mental health therapy and rehabilitation. Read this article to learn more.

An illustration of a smiling person wearing a VR headset and doing therapy and rehabilitation

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by Scott Johannes, Doctor of Physical Therapy, Meta For All contributor

This article focuses on VR for physical therapy and rehabilitation. Looking for mental health therapy? Please see our article on VR Therapy

Why read this?

Community members have successfully used VR for their physical therapy and rehabilitation needs, resulting in the physical improvements listed below.

Increases in:

  • Strength
  • Endurance
  • Energy level throughout the day
  • Balance
  • Safety (less risk of falls)
  • Reaction speed
  • Movement velocity
  • Coordination

Decreases in:

  • Pain
  • Fatigue levels
  • Shortness of breath with activity

How is VR rehab used for physical impairments?

Many community members successfully use VR rehabilitation for their physical impairments and goals. Games on VR headsets can make it fun to move the body when playing. Therefore, this causes the body to move in ways similar to some rehab exercises, potentially leading to improved function. Due to VR games being fun, there may be a higher chance you will want to come back and keep playing over time, resulting in increased long term activity levels and forming healthier movement habits. Scroll down for a list of popular titles.

Will VR rehab work for me?

Before you start anything, discuss with your primary care provider. Overall results vary person to person based on a lot of factors. This can include what the impairments are, the rehab goals you want and your medical background. Plan on trying lots of different VR games and apps. It is important to find ones that can help with your goals. In addition, you need to enjoy them so that you’ll keep coming back to play.

What are the next steps?

There are easy steps to get started:
1) Get a VR headset
2) Choose what to rehab
3) Download a game and play
Scroll down to get started!

Step 1) Get A VR Headset

Meta Quest 2 – There are lot of VR headsets, and this one is our recommendation. Popular, low price point (compared to other headsets), easy to setup, easy to learn, lots of games and apps, and doesn’t require any other hardware to run (like a VR-enabled computer).

When choosing a VR headset, make sure to read what additional equipment is needed to make it run (if any), how much room it requires for use, and the selection of games and apps it has. Consequently, not all VR headsets have access to the same content.

Step 2) Choose What To Rehab

Workouts and Exercise
Starter Recommendation: Supernatural

Top things it may help with:
Strength – Squatting and lunging to avoid targets is a serious strengthener for the lower body
Balance – Weight shifts from turning and dodging obstacles can improve balance
Energy Level – Constant body movements during play helping increase endurance
Coordination – Reaching for targets at the right time can improve dexterity

Fun Note – Beautiful backgrounds from all over the world make you feel transported to and energized by the environments while you workout.
Weight Loss
Starter Recommendation: Beat Saber

Top things it may help with:
Weight Loss – Feels like playing a game, but the body is actually doing fast-paced, repetitive, calorie burning body movements
Energy Level – Slashing note boxes to the beat for entire songs can help improve stamina
Reaction Speed – Timing body movements to be rhythm with the song helps improve dexterity

Fun Note – There is a large community of users that create custom songs for playing in Beat Saber, guaranteeing an endless supply of experiences.

Flexibility
Starter Recommendation: OhShape
OhShape is a movement game where the player matches body poses to fit the cut-outs in the approaching wall.

Top things it may help with:
Flexibility – Positioning the body to fit through the cut-outs in the walls can help with body and joint range of motion
Balance – Sidestepping and other movements done during play help to improve body stability
Coordination – Leg and arm positioning done during play can help enhance the body’s coordination

Fun Note – It comes with four levels of difficulty and a practice mode, allowing the difficulty to be adapted to different needs.
Strength and Muscle Tone
Starter Recommendation: FitXR

Top things it may help with:
Strength – Reaching, punching, squatting and dance movements can enhance raw power in the body’s muscle groups
Muscle Tone – Repetitive movements during play can help improve the body’s lean body mass
Energy Level – The intensity level of the game can help train the body to improve overall endurance, making it feel more energized during the day

Reaction Time / Dexterity
Starter Recommendation: Thrill of the Fight
Thrill of the Fight is a high-quality boxing game with fast movements and striking. Train your strikes on the weight bag, work on punching rhythm on the speed bag, and dual opponents in the ring!

Top things it may help with:
Energy Level – Getting in the ring with an opponent is a fantastic cardio workout, and can improve overall endurance
Reaction Speed – Timing your blocks and punches helps to improve overall reaction speed
Coordination – Placing the right strike at the right place at the right time to win the fight helps enhance the body’s motor planning skills

Fun Note – Not interested in boxing opponents but still want to play? There are weight bags and speed bags in the game to practice on too.
Cerebral Palsy Management
Starter Recommendation: Beat Saber

Top things it may help with:
Muscle Stiffness – Body movements reaching for and slashing notes can help relax muscle tone in typical CP-associated stiffness areas
Balance – Leaning and reaching during play can improve overall standing balance
Coordination – The timing of body movements to accurately slash the notes helps enhance coordination

Fun Note – Beat Saber was a top recommendation by VR community members with CP looking for help managing symptoms.
Energy Level Improvement / Fatigue Management (including cancer-associated and chemotherapy-associated fatigue)
Starter Recommendation: Synth Riders
Synth Riders is an fast-paced, free-style, dancing rhythm game with tons of great music options and environments. Different game modes and difficulty levels allows the game to always have a new challenge to offer players, while gameplay can be customized to fit the needs of those with different abilities.

Top things it may help with:
Energy Level Improvement – Fast-paced body movements during play trains the endurance of the body, leading to improved feelings of energy
Balance – Reaching for targets and dodging obstacles helps improve overall balance
Reaction Speed – Fast-paced interaction with in-game targets can lead to faster reaction speed

Balance (including cancer-associated balance problems)
Starter Recommendation: Dance Central

Top things it may help with:
Balance – Turns and weight shifts done during play can improve body stability
Coordination – Matching dance movements to the beat helps improve overall coordination
Fatigue reduction – Moving the body to the dance moves can be a great source of lower-intensity aerobic activity, training the body to improve energy levels

Fun Note – Dance Central has a fitness app that can also track calories burned during play
Pain Management
Starter Recommendation: Alcove
Alcove is a calming app with a variety of enjoyable experiences that can turn the focus away from pain. It is filled with features that can help with pain levels, including hanging out with family and friends, watching videos, listening to classical music, visiting places in the world, performing breathing exercises and experiencing guided meditation.

Top things it may help with:
Pain Reduction – The features included help to distract from and calm pain levels, improving overall body comfort
Energy Level Improvement – Improved pain levels can contribute to improved overall energy level and joy during the day
Fatigue Reduction – A decrease in pain levels can help decrease unnecessary mental focus on the body, leading to decreased fatigue levels

Fun Note – Alcove has many features that can be enjoyed together with other VR friends and family, or personally on your own!
Seated Play
Starter Recommendation: Vacation Simulator

Top things it may help with:
Standing Tolerance – Can be played sitting the entire time, standing the entire time, or a mix of both, helping to improve standing tolerance
Balance – Leaning and reaching to interact with the game can help improve body stability
Coordination – Picking up and using in-game objects helping to improve coordination issues

Fun Note – If you enjoy Vacation Simulator, check out the developer’s earlier title called Job Simulator!

Step 3) Download A Game And Play

Download one of the starter games mentioned above and play, it’s that simple! Finding games you love to play is critical, as it will keep you coming back time and time again, helping towards the rehab improvements you want.

We hope you enjoyed this article about VR rehabilitation. This article is constantly improving with the help of the community.

What To Do Now

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