[ARTICLE] The Effects of Virtual Reality Training on Function in Chronic Stroke Patients: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis – Full Text


Objective. The aim of this study was to perform a meta-analysis to examine whether virtual reality (VR) training is effective for lower limb function as well as upper limb and overall function in chronic stroke patients. Methods. Three databases, OVID, PubMed, and EMBASE, were used to collect articles. The search terms used were “cerebrovascular accident (CVA),” “stroke”, and “virtual reality”. Consequently, twenty-one studies were selected in the second screening of meta-analyses. The PEDro scale was used to assess the quality of the selected studies. Results. The total effect size for VR rehabilitation programs was 0.440. The effect size for upper limb function was 0.431, for lower limb function it was 0.424, and for overall function it was 0.545. The effects of VR programs on specific outcomes were most effective for improving muscle tension, followed by muscle strength, activities of daily living (ADL), joint range of motion, gait, balance, and kinematics.Conclusion. The VR training was effective in improving the function in chronic stroke patients, corresponding to a moderate effect size. Moreover, VR training showed a similar effect for improving lower limb function as it did for upper limb function.

1. Introduction

Stroke is a major cause of death in the modern world; it also causes sensory, motor, cognitive, and visual impairments and restricts performance of activities of daily living (ADL) [1]. Motor impairments are observed in 80% of stroke patients, and these can include loss of balance and gait [2]. These problems are important targets of rehabilitation, because they reduce the ability of individuals to perform ADL and this result in impaired community activities [34].

Most studies on balance and gait rehabilitation have shown positive effects. However, training-based methods often become tiresome are resource-intensive and require specialized facilities or equipment. Therefore, there is a demand for economical and safe methods of rehabilitation [2].

Virtual reality (VR) is defined by “the use of interactive simulations created with computer hardware and software to present users with opportunities to engage in environments that appear and feel similar to real world objects and events.” Participants interact with projected images, maneuver virtual objects and perform activities programmed into the task, giving the user a sense of immersion in the simulated environment. Various forms of feedback are provided through the environment, the most common being visual and auditory, to enhance enjoyment and motor learning through real-time feedback and immediate results [5]. VR training using these features has recently been widely used in the field of stroke rehabilitation [3]. VR training aims to improve neural plasticity by providing a safe and enriched environment to perform functional task-specific activities with increased repetitions, intensity of practice, and motivation to comply with the intervention [1].

In the field of stroke rehabilitation, VR training is reported to be mostly effective at increasing upper limb joint range of motion, improving sensation, muscle strengthening, reducing pain, and improving functional processesRecently, various VR programs have been developed and implemented for the lower limbs as well as the upper limbs, and their effects are being tested. VR training for stroke patients has been shown to be safe and cost-effective at improving lower limb function, specifically improving balance, stair climbing speed, ankle muscle strength, range of motion, and gait speed [1]. Compared with existing treatment methods, it may be more effective at improving dynamic balance control and preventing falls in subacute and chronic stroke patients [6].

Treatment methods using VR provide a virtual environment for ADLs that are difficult to perform in a hospital, and therefore, it could be very effective at improving both upper limb and lower limb function. However, because the lower limbs have to support the weight of the body, various elements are required, including muscle strength and balance to control body weight, joint movements, and cognitive ability to integrate these other elements. Although studies related to VR training have been increasing in recent years, VR intervention has been used more extensively to improve upper limb function, which is relatively easier to apply than lower limb function.

Furthermore, doubts could be raised as to whether VR treatment methods for the lower limbs can improve these elements; these doubts related to lack of VR equipment or programs, as well as safety issues or dizziness during treatment. For this reason, we aimed to perform a meta-analysis as a scientific method to test the effects of uncertain treatment methods using statistical methods, in order to examine whether VR training is effective for lower limb function as well as upper limb function. […]

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