LEE Wentworth-Douglass Hospital is using virtual reality to help high school athletes and others return to the sports they are dedicated to more quickly and safely.
“With practice and game time, visible injuries like sprains, breaks and bruises are inevitable this time of year, said Crystal Mockler, a spokesperson at Wentworth-Douglass. Unfortunately, invisible injuries like concussions often go unnoticed or undetected, can have devastating impacts, and keep athletes out of the game longer than necessary. Thanks to new Virtual Reality technology available at Wentworth Douglass Hospital Rehabilitation Services, athletes can be safely reintroduced to stimuli such as noise or lights in a controlled way under the supervision of a rehabilitation specialist. Such stimuli would normally set back concussion recovery or worsen concussion symptoms.
As part of the Sports Concussion Rehab Program, W-D sports professionals are using technologies like SyncThink and VR Health to monitor balance, equilibrium and rapid eye movements in concussion patients. The technology allows them to assess the athletes recovery, adjust treatments and get them back on the playing field as soon as possible.
Trying on the headset is fun. Suddenly the wearer is transported to another setting. It might be a lake, mountains or other scene, but it seems real. Birds fly around, there are sounds one would expect in the environment, and two handheld paddles give the user a measure of control over their surroundings and give the medical team a way to track their responses.
As part of the initiative, we have hired two athletic trainers for Dover High School, said Ben Otis, Rehabilitation Operations Manager at the Rehab Services center located in Lee. We are working closely with trainers at our area high schools. It allows us to offer a better continuum of care for these students when an injury occurs.
The technology is very new for Wentworth-Douglass and Otis said he believes they are the only ones in the Seacoast using it.
Dr. David Cormier, a sports medicine physician who is also the head of the team of physicians at the University of New Hampshire, trained on the equipment at Massachusetts General Hospital, which is affiliated with Wentworth-Douglass.
We can look at some high-level movements, like balance, said Cormier. The data we get from these tests are better and more objective so we are able to explain to people what is going on and to let parents and kids know when they can feel safe to play. We can form a strategic plan and find the appropriate rehabilitation exercises to get them there. Plus, its fun and the kids using it are loving it.
Otis said SyncThink is used for occupational therapy while VR Health is applied to physical therapy, allowing for a complement in assessments and treatment.
We can compile data and get information on things like ways the students vision might be impacted through their injury, said Otis. We can create a baseline to follow their progress. We can show the patients, so they better understand how they are progressing. Its a far cry from telling them to go home, rest and do nothing. They want to be able to work with us so they can return to their sport as quickly as is safe.
Jon Mousette is the athletic trainer at Spaulding High School. He said they use the equipment to do an impact test on students taking part in any sport that involves contact.
That baseline is really important to us when there is any likelihood of contact in a sport, said Mousette. Using the combination of occupational, physical and even speech therapy involves the student athlete in their treatment. They understand why they are doing this and they like that feeling of control.
Chris Kennedy, a physical therapist with the sports rehab program, said he uses SyncThink to assess an athletes eyes for the visual disturbances that are common with a concussion.
We can see how fast their eyes are tracking, said Kennedy. It gives us data we can compare as we move forward. The VR unit places people in different situations as reality. Medically it helps us to look at the way they react.
Cormier said he is excited about the technology. He said he thinks it will go a long way to debunking myths about concussion, to improving treatment and to helping parents feel more confidence as their children head into the fall sports season.