Background: Virtual reality and interactive video gaming have emerged as new treatment approaches in stroke rehabilitation. In particular, commercial gaming consoles are being rapidly adopted in clinical settings; however, there is currently little information about their effectiveness.
Objectives: To evaluate the effects of virtual reality and interactive video gaming on upper limb, lower limb and global motor function after stroke.
Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Stroke Group Trials Register (March 2010), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (The Cochrane Library 2010, Issue 1), MEDLINE (1950 to March 2010), EMBASE (1980 to March 2010) and seven additional databases. We also searched trials registries, conference proceedings, reference lists and contacted key researchers in the area and virtual reality equipment manufacturers.
Selection criteria: Randomised and quasi-randomised trials of virtual reality ('an advanced form of human-computer interface that allows the user to 'interact' with and become 'immersed' in a computer-generated environment in a naturalistic fashion') in adults after stroke. The primary outcomes of interest were: upper limb function and activity, gait and balance function and activity and global motor function.
Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently selected trials based on pre-defined inclusion criteria, extracted data and assessed risk of bias. A third review author moderated disagreements when required. The authors contacted all investigators to obtain missing information.
Main results: We included 19 trials which involved 565 participants. Study sample sizes were generally small and interventions and outcome measures varied, limiting the ability to which studies could be compared. Intervention approaches in the included studies were predominantly designed to improve motor function rather than cognitive function or activity performance. The majority of participants were relatively young and more than one year post stroke.
Primary outcomes: results were statistically significant for arm function (standardised mean difference (SMD) 0.53, 95% confidence intervals (CI) 0.25 to 0.81 based on seven studies with 205 participants). There were no statistically significant effects for grip strength or gait speed. We were unable to determine the effect on global motor function due to insufficient numbers of comparable studies.
Secondary outcomes: results were statistically significant for activities of daily living (ADL) outcome (SMD 0.81, 95% CI 0.39 to 1.22 based on three studies with 101 participants); however, we were unable to pool results for cognitive function, participation restriction and quality of life or imaging studies. There were few adverse events reported across studies and those reported were relatively mild. Studies that reported on eligibility rates showed that only 34% (standard deviation (SD) 26, range 17 to 80) of participants screened were recruited.
Authors' conclusions: We found limited evidence that the use of virtual reality and interactive video gaming may be beneficial in improving arm function and ADL function when compared with the same dose of conventional therapy. There was insufficient evidence to reach conclusions about the effect of virtual reality and interactive video gaming on grip strength or gait speed. It is unclear at present which characteristics of virtual reality are most important and it is unknown whether effects are sustained in the longer term. Furthermore, there are currently very few studies evaluating the use of commercial gaming consoles (such as the Nintendo Wii).