Virtual reality in stroke rehabilitation: it’s more than just a game

July 8, 2019

According to a group of researchers based in Italy, virtual reality (VR) can offer real-world benefits when it comes to stroke rehabilitation. These researchers reviewed 15 scientific studies and concluded that virtual reality can lead to better outcomes in walking speed, balance, and mobility than just stand-alone conventional therapy. While further studies are required to determine the actual clinical benefit associated with VR-based rehabilitation, this study indicates that patients can improve. Even those patients who had a stroke months or years before can experience greater improvements. 

Most of the reviewed studies looked at patients who had only mild impairments. They could walk on their own 6 months after their stroke. An important side effect of VR is the fact that it increases motivation and involvement of patients, which is key to recovery.  Although the clinical extra effects of VR appear to be small in most studies listed in this review, the added value of VR should be considered.

The advent of VR in stroke rehabilitation may not come as a surprise to many of you. VR has already entered many of our homes via our smartphones and commercially available headsets that can be purchased from online retailers for less than $100. Getting a hold of the games is just as easy! Your smartphone probably came bundled with Apple’s App Store or Google Play. Just search these ‘stores’ for a virtual reality app. There are many. Some are free, and some cost only a few dollars. Run the app, place the phone on the headset and enjoy the ride.

VR in medical care

But it’s about more than just gaming. As more hospitals, care centers, and insurance companies take note of the life-changing (patients love it) and money-saving (up to $700 per session with home-based therapy) potential of VR, science fiction is fast becoming science fact. And adopting VR might drive down the cost of your healthcare while improving your outcomes.

So, virtual reality is about more than just escapism. It’s about our care providers sitting up and taking note of progress. It’s about ensuring we receive the best available level of care. More and more insurance providers are recognizing the benefits of VR as stroke therapy and are willing to cover the cost, so check with your provider.

So where does this leave us in regards to the findings of our Italian friends? Well, with one eye firmly on the future — the future is here, and the future is now. We just need to embrace the possibilities.


The lead author of this publication is Dr. Corbetta from the Rehabilitation Department at San Raffaele Hospital, Milan, Italy.

Editorial note:

More and more rehab institutes are offering virtual reality. This new technique can enhance your rehabilitation efforts. Read on to see if you should consider adding virtual reality to your program.

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