Traditionally, physical therapy can be difficult – even grueling – for patients. But a new wave of video game and robotic technology used at Novant Health Rehabilitation Hospital in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is easing the hard work for patients recovering from stroke or orthopedic injuries.

“The video games and all our other technology take the focus away from thinking, ‘Oh, I have to do all this therapy.’ They get away from feeling like their arm or body hurts, and they start engaging in the rehab activity,” said Resha Parker, an occupational therapy assistant at the hospital who works side-by-side with patients.

Here are five high-tech pieces used by the team of expert providers to help speed patient recovery.

BURT, or Barrett UE (upper extremity) Robotic Trainer

A patient’s arm is attached to a robotic arm to practice movement by playing a video game. “It helps with improvement of the shoulder or elbow for patients who have been diagnosed with stroke,” Parker said. “Sometimes when patients have a stroke they can have a limb that’s affected, and there’s disconnect between motor and nerve function, so they lose use of that arm. BURT helps regain the function by increasing range of motion and improving strength, and it also has a sensory component that’s added in.”

Bioness H200

A wireless hand rehabilitation device for patients who have had stroke, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries or central nervous system injuries. The device is intended to increase hand function, increase or maintain hand range of motion, reduce muscle spasms, prevent muscle loss, reeducate muscles and increase blood circulation. “It works like electrical stimulation,” Parker said. “It kind of gets the nerves to get back to firing.”

BITS, or Bioness Integrated Therapy System

Bioness BITS is an interactive touchscreen video game. Patients can sit or stand and touch objects on a screen that are projected in front of them. It helps people recovering from traumatic injuries or movement disorders by addressing things like coordination, reaction time, perception, information processing, memory and endurance. “Some patients are shy at first with the touchscreen technology, but eventually they really get into it and it’s a great motivator,” Parker said.

Synchrony Dysphagia Solutions Program

Speech language pathologist Megan Parr demonstrates Synchrony Dysphagia Solutions Program's use of video game technology

It’s common for stroke survivors to have dysphagia (dis-fage-ee-a), or trouble swallowing, after a stroke. The Synchrony Dysphagia Solutions Program uses biofeedback to show patients the effectiveness of their swallow as a graphic as they do swallowing exercises. The program incorporates video games to help patients with motivation.

“In the past, we would have patients doing swallowing exercises, but they couldn’t really see their progress,” said Megan Parr, a speech language pathologist at the hospital. “With this, it turns the measuring of the patient’s swallow into swallowing games. One of the swallowing games we use is a kangaroo game and if they swallow hard the kangaroo will catch the coins. And if they don’t swallow hard, it will prompt them by saying, ‘You didn’t swallow hard enough. Try swallowing harder next time.”

Biodex FreeStep overhead track and harness system

The harness system runs across the ceiling of the therapy gym on a track. Patients can be strapped into the system for extra support to provide safety as they work on their movement with a therapist. “Previously, many of these exercises would have taken two or three therapists,” said Todd Yennior, a physical therapist assistant at Novant Health Rehabilitation Hospital. “Now, they can be done with one therapist, and the harness system decreases the fall risk and allows us to attempt exercises that we couldn’t attempt before and to do them much more safely.”

For more information on services at the new facility, visit the Novant Health Rehabilitation Hospital’s website.