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  • Writer's pictureDr Kevin Rafferty FRCA

Rafferty Distraction Headset Journal Club

Efficacy of Virtual Reality Rehabilitation after Spinal Cord Injury: A systematic review

Biomed Res Int. 2019; 2019: 7106951.

Published online 2019 Nov 13. doi: 10.1155/2019/7106951


Background Spinal cord injury (SCI) is often associated with long-term impairments related to functional limitations in the sensorimotor system. The use of virtual reality (VR) technology may lead to increased motivation and engagement, besides allowing a wide range of possible tasks/exercises to be implemented in rehabilitation programs. The present review aims to investigate the possible benefits and efficacy of VR-based rehabilitation in individuals with SCI.

Methods An electronically systematic search was performed in multiple databases (PubMed, BVS, Web of Science, Cochrane Central, and Scielo) up to May 2019. MESH terms and keywords were combined in a search strategy. Two reviewers independently selected the studies in accordance with eligibility criteria. The PEDro scale was used to score the methodological quality and risk of bias of the selected studies.

Results Twenty-five studies (including 482 participants, 47.6 ± 9.5 years, 73% male) were selected and discussed. Overall, the studies used VR devices in different rehabilitation protocols to improve motor function, driving skills, balance, aerobic function, and pain level, as well as psychological and motivational aspects. A large amount of heterogeneity was observed as to the study design, VR protocols, and outcome measures used. Only seven studies (28%) had an excellent/good quality of evidence. However, substantial evidence for significant positive effects associated with VR therapy was found in most of the studies (88%), with no adverse events (88%) being reported.

Conclusion Although the current evidence is limited, the findings suggest that VR-based rehabilitation in subjects with SCI may lead to positive effects on aerobic function, balance, pain level, and motor function recovery besides improving psychological/motivational aspects. Further high-quality studies are needed to provide a guideline to clinical practice and to draw robust conclusions about the potential benefits of VR therapy for SCI patients. Protocol details are registered on PROSPERO (registration number: CRD42016052629).

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