Webwatch: How virtual reality is helping to rehabilitate injured children

Researchers from Sheffield Hallam University have developed two virtual reality (VR) computer games aimed at helping injured children through rehabilitation.

The team, led by Ivan Phelan, research associate games developer, worked with physiotherapists and play specialists from Sheffield Children’s Hospital to develop the games which are being used to help children recover from hand and arm injuries.

For certain injuries, children and young people need to do exercises to help their limbs recover; but it can be sometimes difficult to motivate them to carry out the exercises, particularly at home.

The team from Hallam’s Cultural, Communication, and Computing Research Institute (C3RI) have developed a VR archery game and a climbing game (pictured), consulting with experts from the hospital along the way, as well as trialling the gameplay with local school children.

The games, which require the user to carry out exercises such as reaching behind their back to grab arrows, or reach upwards to climb a castle wall, are designed to help children complete their vital recovery exercises.

Ivan said: “Depending on certain injuries, it can be necessary for children to have to perform exercises to help them recuperate – which can sometimes seem like a chore. It can also be very difficult to motivate some children to perform these vital exercises.

“Using VR, patients would perform the exercises recommended by their therapist, and would receive in-game rewards to progress to the next level at the correct pace – either over time, by movement or both.

“The system would monitor how they cope with the exercises and progress made. Repeated sessions would enhance the prospect of good or complete recovery with optimal restoration of function.

“In the future, the developed system could be made available for patients to use at home using existing computers or games consoles and VR headsets. Different scenarios could be made that would appeal to children’s different motivations to engage. “We also worked with colleagues from the Department of Psychology and University of Sheffield on the project.”

John Somers, Chief Executive at Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation said: “Here at Sheffield Children’s we are always looking at new and innovative ways to treat and support children and young people.

“Patients and families have said the Virtual Reality system is a really fun way of doing the physiotherapy and it also appeals to physicians as an effective way of getting the patient engaged in treatment.

“Taking part in this research study with Sheffield Hallam University is just one of the ways we are looking to broaden our horizons for treatments in the future as a leader for innovation.”

Sheffield Hallam University is a national leader in creating innovative and real-world solutions for tackling today’s health and wellbeing challenges.

The University specialises in healthcare research and its practitioners, scientists, engineers and designers regularly collaborate to create innovative solutions to global health challenges.

Picture (c) Sheffield Hallam University.