Tampa, Florida -- The future of physical therapy, is right in our backyard. Imagine being able to recover from an accident, or strengthen muscles in virtual reality.
At the University of South Florida's School of Physical Therapy, Vietnam veteran Rudy Salas is driving a virtual car in what looks like an arcade game.
Salas is strapped in a harness, walking on a treadmill in front of a giant screen programmed with a racetrack. He's doing it all with a prosthetic leg.
"I was zigging when I should have been zagging, and all of a sudden, there was an explosion and it was a few seconds before I realized my leg had been blown off!" he said.
He is refining his mobility in a virtual setting, which is different from the typical therapy involving a mirror and plain room. This is the USF's new Computer Assisted Rehab Environment — CAREN for short. It's the only one in Florida.
Jason Highsmith, an associate professor in the program says, "Folks with orthopedic injuries require procedures, joint replacements, amputation [can all benefit]. It might also help those with stroke and traumatic brain injury."
For Salas, getting treatment, using CAREN in a controlled space helps him adapt what he's learning to the real world.
So can the public start using CAREN? Research studies continue next year.
This technology is already being used by the Department of Defense, which came to USF thanks in part to a half-million dollar National Science Department grant. And, more more funding is needed in the coming months.