Rehabilitation that incorporates virtual reality is more effective than standard rehabilitation for improving walking speed, balance and mobility after stroke: a systematic review

J Physiother. 2015 Jul;61(3):117-24. doi: 10.1016/j.jphys.2015.05.017. Epub 2015 Jun 18.


Question: In people after stroke, does virtual reality based rehabilitation (VRBR) improve walking speed, balance and mobility more than the same duration of standard rehabilitation? In people after stroke, does adding extra VRBR to standard rehabilitation improve the effects on gait, balance and mobility?

Design: Systematic review with meta-analysis of randomised trials.

Participants: Adults with a clinical diagnosis of stroke.

Intervention: Eligible trials had to include one these comparisons: VRBR replacing some or all of standard rehabilitation or VRBR used as extra rehabilitation time added to a standard rehabilitation regimen.

Outcome measures: Walking speed, balance, mobility and adverse events.

Results: In total, 15 trials involving 341 participants were included. When VRBR replaced some or all of the standard rehabilitation, there were statistically significant benefits in walking speed (MD 0.15 m/s, 95% CI 0.10 to 0.19), balance (MD 2.1 points on the Berg Balance Scale, 95% CI 1.8 to 2.5) and mobility (MD 2.3 seconds on the Timed Up and Go test, 95% CI 1.2 to 3.4). When VRBR was added to standard rehabilitation, mobility showed a significant benefit (0.7 seconds on the Timed Up and Go test, 95% CI 0.4 to 1.1), but insufficient evidence was found to comment about walking speed (one trial) and balance (high heterogeneity).

Conclusion: Substituting some or all of a standard rehabilitation regimen with VRBR elicits greater benefits in walking speed, balance and mobility in people with stroke. Although the benefits are small, the extra cost of applying virtual reality to standard rehabilitation is also small, especially when spread over many patients in a clinic. Adding extra VRBR time to standard rehabilitation also has some benefits; further research is needed to determine if these benefits are clinically worthwhile.

Keywords: Postural balance; Stroke rehabilitation; Virtual reality exposure therapy; Walking.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Gait / physiology
  • Humans
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Postural Balance / physiology*
  • Stroke / physiopathology*
  • Stroke Rehabilitation / methods*
  • User-Computer Interface*
  • Walking / physiology*