Penumbra eclipses traditional physical therapy with VR-based full body rehab system

Major tech companies like Meta and Microsoft are already building out their virtual worlds to offer new ways of gaming, shopping, working and communicating—and now, physical and occupational therapy are coming to the metaverse, too.

Penumbra’s Real immersive system is a rehabilitation platform that guides patients through a series of muscle- and cognition-strengthening activities using a virtual reality headset and connected sensors placed across the body. With the launch of the Real y-Series system this week, the VR technology can now be used to address conditions in both the upper and lower extremities; the original iteration of the system was designed only to help rehab upper extremity impairments.

The update makes the y-Series technology “the only hands-free, sensor-based VR platform available that provides activities for both lower and upper body,” according to Gita Barry, general manager of Penumbra’s immersive healthcare business.

“By enabling patients to immerse and visualize their entire body in motion and providing clinicians the ability to individualize each therapy session to challenge and motivate patients, we can maximize the key benefits of rehabilitation therapy by promoting higher engagement and intensity, which has the potential to improve patient outcomes,” Barry said.

Penumbra VR

The y-Series system is meant to be used for both physical and occupational therapy: Its VR-based activities can help improve range of motion, postural control, balance, spatial awareness, cognitive stimulation and daily living activities like grocery shopping.

While a patient is wearing the VR goggles and accompanying sensors, their clinicians can follow along from outside, tracking their progress on a connected tablet and monitoring the patient’s own view to provide any needed guidance. Within that TherapyView app, clinicians can also adjust the program’s settings in real time and tailor each activity to the patient’s specific needs.

Penumbra’s y-Series system comprises 18 therapeutic activities within a variety of virtual worlds. There’s “Happy Valley,” a land of cheerful penguins where patients can help the avian villagers farm, fish, construct new buildings and, according to Penumbra, “even excavate their frozen ancestors.” Through those games, the system aims to improve joint mobility, endurance and strength, balance, attention, short-term memory and more.

Another of the worlds, “Mindful Market,” is specifically geared toward preparing patients to return to the workplace by honing their executive function, working memory, sequencing and sorting skills. It does so by guiding them through virtual activities such as building sandwiches, sorting deliveries and selling postage stamps with “increasingly complex prices,” per the company.

Beyond the y-Series system, which focuses on clinical rehabilitation for physical injuries and certain cognitive impairments, Penumbra’s Real platform also includes the i-Series technology. That system targets overall mental wellness: It uses a VR headset to offer seated, gaze-based activities that provide cognitive activation, distraction therapy, reminiscence therapy, mindfulness practice and relaxation to people experiencing anxiety, depression, loneliness, physical discomfort and more.