In a recent study published in PLoS ONE, researchers make an assertion that for stroke survivors, the use of virtual reality (VR), including commercially available video game systems, produces a “significant moderate advantage” in International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health (ICF) outcomes compared with conventional therapies. The findings of the study were the result of an analysis of 26 randomized controlled trials that focused on the use of VR to augment or replace conventional therapy in populations largely or solely comprising individuals post-stroke.

According to a news release from the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), of the studies analyzed for the review, four focused on the use of commercially available gaming platforms such as the Nintendo Wii and the rest used more specialized virtual environment (VE) equipment designed for rehabilitation. The authors included recent trials and incorporated ICF data into the meta-analysis. The authors of the study did not find any trials that examined ICF outcomes related body structures or function or environmental factors and only three that analyzed participation restrictions.

The authors did note, however, “a moderate but reliable advantage of VR therapy over [conventional therapy] in the components of body function and activity.” Overall, the authors acknowledge that the findings are tempered with limitations, as indicated on the APTA news release. The authors found that while there is “strong evidence” for the effectiveness of therapies that incorporated VE, evidence was also found commercial video game platforms as “promising” but “too small to draw conclusions.”

The research team also cites a “high degree of variability” in the trials, and an insufficient number of studies to allow authors to control for stroke severity or the effects of time post-stroke on the outcomes of conventional therapy, as noted on the APTA news release. The researchers write that future studies should attempt to clearly define “conventional therapy” to make results more useful.

[Sources: APTA, PLoS ONE]