DEPEW, N.Y. (WIVB) — Virtual reality is no longer just for gamers.

Physical therapist Mark Howard owns Howard Physical Therapy in Depew and he’s the first physical therapist in the Buffalo area to use the technology to help patients.

“The REAL System” created by Penumbra is a rehab technology to help people overcoming injuries.

“We had a chance to try it in the office and we were very impressed with how it allowed patients to do things that they wouldn’t do when we’re asking you do to simple exercises. So the virtual reality world distracts them,” Howard said.

He uses it with a wide range of patients: those recovering from upper body injuries, replacement surgeries, and even strokes.

When patients play the VR games, they’re not thinking about the pain or fear to move their body.

“You’re seeing people that are moving. Their motions are much better, much more intense, much farther range of motion, we can put weights on, so they’re doing more than if they were doing a stationary exercise.”

Sensors placed on the patient’s arms, waist, back, and hands create their virtual body and mimic their movements, allowing the patient to see themselves in the virtual world.

Howard said he’s noticed improvement in every patient who has used VR and the progress is tangible to show insurance companies.

“One of the things it allows us to do is collect data so we can see how well somebody did, we can show them. We can do the same activity a week later show them how they’ve progressed and improved.”

Each game can also be adjusted to the patient’s abilities as they progress.

Howard thinks this is just the beginning for VR therapy.

“I think virtual reality is here to stay. I think it’s really gonna grow and evolve we got involved with it because we really wanted to be involved in the beginning so we could see it grow we wanted to grow with it.”

He hopes to use it for concussion and balance protocols in the future.

“The REAL System” is covered by insurance under traditional physical therapy since it’s a therapeutic activity just like any piece of equipment.

Anyone interested in the therapy can call Howard’s office.

Kayla Green is a reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of her work here.