The Impact VR research lab at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) explored how virtual reality technology can help burn survivors, amputees and children undergoing limb rehabilitation.
To improve the accessibility and observance of clinical therapies, they design playful games that perform mechanisms intended to reproduce clinical interventions adapted to the specific needs of users. Their leading work in physical rehabilitation incorporates fully immersive and interactive game elements that replicate physical therapy exercises.
A suite of projects has succeeded in developing a set of immersive and interactive virtual reality games that have significantly improved the health, well-being and lifestyles of children and adults affected by neurological and musculoskeletal disorders, orthopedic trauma and chronic pain.
The impact obtained by these innovations was fourfold:
- improve the physical and psychological health, lifestyles and well-being of patients;
- promote more effective standards and services for practitioners;
- improving public awareness and understanding of these technologies and opening a related social policy debate;
- and establish business and medical collaborations to improve healthcare and NHS profitability.
VR for pain distraction during burn dressing changes
Most burn patients undergo painful repetitive treatment processes, such as wound debridement and dressing changes.
Additionally, the perception of pain associated with burns has been reported as one of the most intense types of pain. Therefore, the pain that accompanies burn treatment presents a critical challenge, one to be addressed not only by patients but also by clinical staff.
The Impact VR Lab has designed an immersive virtual basketball game to help adult burn victims cope with the pain of medical treatments, including bandages.
In their clinical trial, burn patients experienced significantly less pain and anxiety (according to scores from 0 to 100) than during conventional dressing sessions. These immersive scenarios with high degrees of patient presence and engagement have proven to be the most effective. This could help burn survivors cope with pain during their treatments and speed up the healing process.
VR training system for amputees
Myoelectric prostheses are driven by the muscle force of the patient, but with the help of electrical energy. A biochemical process generates an electrical voltage of the order of a microvolt each time a muscle contracts.
With myoelectric arm prostheses, muscle tensions in the residual limb are usually read by two electrodes. The weak myoelectric impulses which are in the range of microvolts are then amplified and transmitted to the electronics of the prosthesis in the form of control signals.
The myoelectric powered prosthesis may be more functional and beneficial than passive or body-operated prostheses. However, extensive training is required to take full advantage of the ease of use of the myoelectric prosthesis.
Research lab Impact VR has designed a virtual reality experience that allows amputees to practice using a prosthesis before it is fitted. Their preliminary results suggest that myoelectric entrainment enhanced with virtual reality can simulate a painless, natural, enjoyable and realistic experience for the patient.
It has also been found that virtual reality can supplement prosthetic training by improving the functionality of the missing body part. Finally, it was shown that virtual reality could solve one of the most common challenges for a new prosthesis user, which is to accept the adaptation of the prosthesis to his own body.
VR physical rehabilitation
Children with limb motor impairment often undergo repetitive therapeutic physiotherapy sessions to minimize functional disabilities in the affected area. Although therapeutic processes can improve functional outcomes and minimize persistent disabilities, patients often neglect to fully participate in physical therapies due to the associated procedural pain.
In recent decades, there has been growing interest in designing non-pharmacological interventions that aim to minimize pain during physical therapies and improve functional outcomes.