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Revolutionizing Spinal Cord Injury Treatment with VRWalk: A VR Game Experience

The Revolutionary Approach to Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation

There’s a new player in the game of spinal cord injury rehabilitation, and it’s revolutionizing how we approach treatment. Based in Birmingham, Immersive Experience Laboratories, led by Corey Shum, is pioneering a unique way to improve the quality of life of those afflicted with spinal cord injuries. VRWalk, their innovative virtual reality game, has been making strides in the field of therapeutic VR applications.

“The interesting part is being able to improve people’s lives by providing them with an immersive, interactive, presence-filled, embodied experience,” Shum said. This perspective epitomizes the mission behind VRWalk.

The Power of Virtual Reality: VRWalk

Working in partnership with Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), and the University of New South Wales in Australia, the team is testing the efficacy of VRWalk as a tool for reducing neuropathic pain among individuals with spinal cord injuries. This is a particularly pertinent challenge, as “[up to] 70% of people with a spinal cord injury experience neuropathic pain,” according to Dr. Zina Trost, VCU project lead.

The VRWalk experience takes participants on a journey through a variety of environments, offering a first-person perspective of their own hands and legs moving. In this immersive world, they navigate scenarios from snowy villages to desert outposts, collecting coins and experiencing the sensation of walking – a freedom often missed by those with spinal cord injuries.

“We can do better than that,” Trost asserted. “We can give people the experience of really walking.”

Overcoming Challenges: The Journey of VRWalk

Transitioning the VRWalk program from a clinic-based model to a home-based one was not without its hurdles. Initially, setup involved large tripod towers and camera equipment which needed to be transported to and from patients’ homes. The pandemic, however, brought an unexpected opportunity for adaptation. Today, the trial kits, which include a VR headset and setup instructions, are sent directly to the homes of participants.

“It’s like a miracle, and I think we’re one of the first groups that have ever done it,” said Trost. This change has allowed even more diverse groups to participate in the study, opening the doors of this ground-breaking therapy to many.

The Future of VRWalk and Spinal Cord Injury Treatment

As the study expands, the team continues to push the boundaries of what is possible. Current plans include exploring VRWalk as a form of exercise intervention, noting the program’s exertion requirement from participants. They’re also considering applying the device earlier in a person’s injury journey.

“The future of this study includes expanding the trial period,” said Shum. They hope to discern if the pain reduction patients experience is a result of the mirror therapy effects of the game or merely a distraction from the pain.

Regardless of the answers, the possibilities of VRWalk are broadening the horizon for spinal cord injury treatment. As Hannah Palanchi, senior clinical research coordinator, put it:

“People thoroughly enjoy it. They say it’s like this weird but exciting experience to be walking in this other world.”

In Conclusion

VRWalk is a testament to the power of technology in transforming lives. It’s an exciting glimpse into the future of medical treatment, where virtual reality and gaming intersect with healthcare to create a truly immersive therapeutic experience.


Do you think VR technology has the potential to transform other areas of healthcare? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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