Using VR in Rehabilitation – Benefits and Use Cases

Virtual reality is adopted in many areas of healthcare including diagnosis and treatment such as surgery, rehabilitation, and counseling.  Virtual reality constructs an illusion of a three-dimensional environment.

The users feel immersed in this technology-generated environment as these environments react to the movements of the users. Therefore, virtual reality utilizes the potential of technological advancement to shape the virtual world in various realistic ways.

Virtual Reality in Rehabilitation 

Virtual reality can help in a patient’s movement and assist them in exercising, which can’t be achieved in physical therapy. This is primarily because in a simulated environment, patients are fully engrossed in the reality orchestrated by the virtual environment.

Due to this reason, their attention does not shift to the sensation of physical pain, as much it does in physical therapy

Patients thus, do not realize physical pain in the virtual environment. The absence of the sensation of physical pain enables patients to achieve their target efficiently.  

Related post: Virtual Reality Rehabilitation Vs Physical Therapy
Benefits of virtual reality for stroke rehabilitationOne of the most common impacts of neurological impairment is on the lower limb motor functions. It leads to several limitations such as restricted participation in daily life activities. The rehabilitation process of these motor abilities is a challenging and gradual process, sometimes which can even last for several months.

The conventional rehabilitation process is repetitive in nature which negatively impacts a patient’s motivation to overcome the challenges. This traditional method fails to provide any objective data to monitor the patient’s progress in an effective manner.

In these circumstances, virtual reality has emerged as a significant therapeutic tool, as opposed to conventional therapy in the realm of rehabilitation. Virtual reality in rehabilitation transforms the process into more engaging, as well as effective.

It incorporates VR-based rehabilitation strategies to yield a positive, effective and motivating experience that can usher positive improvement.

Benefits of VR In Rehabilitation 

Virtual reality offers significant advantages when it is incorporated in the process of rehabilitation of patients with various conditions. These benefits include flexibility, patient education and motivation, and variability, on the basis of the patient’s history, transparency in data storage and accessibility of data through online mediums, reduced medical cost for the healthcare system, better use of resources, and many more. 

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● VR In Stroke Rehabilitation

Benefits of virtual reality for stroke rehabilitation

VR has emerged as an effective technological advancement in the treatment of stroke rehabilitation. As VR is capable of simulating real-life activities, it assists patients to improve their self-care skills.

The virtual environment is delivered by equipment worn by the user or situated within a virtual environment. This immersive system layers the reality of the users to create a sense of connectedness. VR stroke rehabilitation is performed to control the symptom and aftermath of a stroke.

The most acknowledged advantage of VR is its ability to motivate the user to be persistent in practicing the required movements. It also provides other advantages such as independent practice, stimulus control, ability to provide user feedback, which can be documented easily because of its flexibility.

Moreover, it allows the patient to be in a safe environment such as one’s own home, thus improving engagement.

● VR In Pain Management

Virtual reality pain management and reduction is another realm, where VR is bringing significant changes so much so, that it can topple the patients’ reliance on painkillers in the near future.
Benefits of virtual reality for stroke rehabilitationVR becomes the coping mechanism of the patient’s brain who is suffering from painful sensations and helps them to overcome them. Thus, VR fosters a faster recovery process.

● VR In Cancer Rehabilitation

Virtual reality also improves the functioning of cancer patients. This technology can decrease pain and improve memory, vision, and the overall wellbeing of such patients.

Cancer continues to be a major health problem in the world. Chemotherapy virtual reality is recommended to increase the prospects of disease-free survival and eradicate the tumor mass.

However, chemotherapy is associated with various distress symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, fatigue, sleep disturbances, depression which increases the patient’s difficulty to adhere to the prescribed schedule and affects the quality of life.

Benefits of virtual reality for stroke rehabilitation

Thus, Immersive distraction intervention such as VR rehabilitation is effective where patients can concentrate on pleasant stimuli instead of unpleasant symptoms.

VR creates therapeutic environments in cancer rehabilitation. Virtual reality through its distraction intervention makes chemotherapy more tolerable and helps to attain realistic goals. 

Related post: Role of Virtual Reality in Supporting Cancer Patients

VR Solution For Healthcare

Cognihab provides technology-driven solutions for various Vision Disorders, Movement Related Disorders & Pre/Post Chemo Cancer Rehabilitation. 

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Cognihab’s VR Stroke Rehabilitation Suite is the world’s first immersive all in one rehabilitation solution co-created with Indian Spinal stroke Cord Injury Center, AIIMS, and Lady Harding hospital.

This rehabilitation suite is an all in One Suit for Stroke Rehabilitation covering upper body, lower body, hand-eye coordination and body posture. They provide virtual reality-based games and tasks for body part rehabilitation, enabling stable body balance and posture.  

Cognihab’s pre-during-post chemo cancer support suite is specially designed for cancer patients to engage them in virtual reality powered immersive journeys and games.

Virtual reality is here to stay and Cognihab has utilized virtual reality technology to help patients rise above their limits.

— Update: 19-03-2023 — found an additional article Immersive Virtual Reality in Stroke Patients as a New Approach for Reducing Postural Disabilities and Falls Risk: A Case Series from the website for the keyword benefits of virtual reality for stroke rehabilitation.

1. Introduction

Stroke is considered the first cause of disability [1] and the third cause of death in westernized countries after cardiovascular diseases and cancer [2]. Stroke is a central nervous system disorder produced by a local interruption of the cerebral blood flow due to the occlusion (ischemic stroke) or rupture (hemorrhagic stroke) of a cerebral blood vessel [3]. As result of brain cortex injury, afferent and efferent neural pathways are affected, and motor, sensitive and cognitive functions become impaired. Motor and cognitive impairments observed in post-stroke patients reduce their functional capacity, their personal autonomy [4], and social abilities, which results in intensive care and rehabilitation needs with the subsequent economic burden to society and families [5].

Postural instability or poor balance is a relevant central vestibular symptom in neurologic disorders, such as stroke [6], in which approximately 83% of stroke survivors show balance impairments [7]. Proprioceptive visual and vestibular inputs to the central nervous system are essential to guarantee the upright position [8]. Thus, errors in the central integration of this postural information can induce gait difficulties with the subsequent increase in risk of falls [9]. In addition, stroke survivors show a number of neurological issues like visual neglect, sensory loss, reduced muscle strength and spasticity, which also increase the risk of fall 1.5–2 times more in post-stroke patients than older adults without brain damage [10]. This results in fractures, tissue injuries, immobility, and psychological fear of falling as additional consequences of falls in stroke patients [11]. Besides, large hospitalization periods due to injury falls are devastating for patient recovery [12].

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The use of virtual reality (VR) has been booming during the last decade, becoming a potential tool in the field of stroke rehabilitation [13]. Virtual reality technology works by displaying a set of digital images that allow the user interacts with a virtual environment or situation that is perceived equivalent to the real physical world [14]. VR has been used in neurorehabilitation in order to encourage a higher number of exercise repetitions and their intensity, and enhances motor learning thanks to the quick feedback possibilities and the multisensorial stimulation [15]. This promotes neuronal plasticity, which would the responsible of VR-induced benefits in stroke rehabilitation [16]. Recent studies have shown that immersive VR protocols in a sitting position and Wii exergames (non-immersive VR) improve motor function, balance, and gait in stroke patients in comparison with conventional therapy (CT) [17]. However, other studies report no statistical differences when comparing immersive or non-immersive VR in a sitting position with CT [18,19]. Moreover, several studies suggest that a neurorehabilitation program combining VR and CT produces a greater improvement than each treatment separately [20].

Nevertheless, the majority of published works have used non-immersive VR therapies, such as Wii exergames for balance training [21,22]. Recently, improved versions of immersive VR have become available for clinical and research purposes in physical rehabilitation. Thus, immersive VR, thanks to the use of headsets that display 3D digital images that simulate any scenario with high realism, has the capability to make individuals feel as if they’re inside the virtual environment. Moreover, the use of hand-held controllers allows users to interact with virtual elements using their hands as they do real life, allowing exercise repetition, intensity variation, and task-oriented training. Thus, immersive VR postulates as a promising tool for the rehabilitation of motivated stroke patients. The aim of this study is to assess if an experimental protocol based on immersive VR therapy is valid for stroke rehabilitation and produces positive effects in balance and falls risk in comparisons to a CT protocol. For such a reason, two intervention protocols (immersive VR or CT) in comparison with the absence of treatment were tested in three patients diagnosed with ischemic stroke.


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