Virtual reality is a term used very loosely in rehabilitation research. It often, probably usually refers to computer games with block designs not unlike Minecraft, Wii games, Kinect and X-Box, and similar programmes with more, or often much less realistic images on a flat computer screen. The product used is rarely virtual, nor is is often very real.
I was therefore very interested to read about the successful application made to the British Society of Rehabilitation Medicine’s Research Pump Priming Award (detail on the award and application here) by Dr Laura Edwards, at the University of Nottingham. The application is to study the use of ‘real’, immersive virtual reality in patients with multiple sclerosis.
The hypothesis is that people with multiple sclerosis often have persistent, albeit fluctuating, unpleasant experiences (pain, stiffness, boredom etc) and that these may be lessened by immersive virtual reality.
Interestingly, a similar idea has been made in relation to lock-down and Covid-19. Radio programmes may provide ‘real noises of nature’ as an antidote to some of the stress and emotional disturbance associated with being indoors and alone so much. (here)
The well-designed project (and very well-written application) will test out the feasibility of setting up a full-scale randomised controlled trial. The intervention is from a company that uses immersive virtual reality as a way of reducing chronic pain. (here) I look forward to see some research into real virtual reality as a therapeutic approach within rehabilitation.