Background: Most stroke survivors continue to experience motor impairments even after hospital discharge. Virtual reality-based techniques have shown potential for rehabilitative training of these motor impairments. Here we assess the impact of at-home VR-based motor training on functional motor recovery, corticospinal excitability and cortical reorganization.
Objective: The aim of this study was to identify the effects of home-based VR-based motor rehabilitation on (1) cortical reorganization, (2) corticospinal tract, and (3) functional recovery after stroke in comparison to home-based occupational therapy.
Methods: We conducted a parallel-group, controlled trial to compare the effectiveness of domiciliary VR-based therapy with occupational therapy in inducing motor recovery of the upper extremities. A total of 35 participants with chronic stroke underwent 3 weeks of home-based treatment. A group of subjects was trained using a VR-based system for motor rehabilitation, while the control group followed a conventional therapy. Motor function was evaluated at baseline, after the intervention, and at 12-weeks follow-up. In a subgroup of subjects, we used Navigated Brain Stimulation (NBS) procedures to measure the effect of the interventions on corticospinal excitability and cortical reorganization.
Results: Results from the system's recordings and clinical evaluation showed significantly greater functional recovery for the experimental group when compared with the control group (1.53, SD 2.4 in Chedoke Arm and Hand Activity Inventory). However, functional improvements did not reach clinical significance. After the therapy, physiological measures obtained from a subgroup of subjects revealed an increased corticospinal excitability for distal muscles driven by the pathological hemisphere, that is, abductor pollicis brevis. We also observed a displacement of the centroid of the cortical map for each tested muscle in the damaged hemisphere, which strongly correlated with improvements in clinical scales.
Conclusions: These findings suggest that, in chronic stages, remote delivery of customized VR-based motor training promotes functional gains that are accompanied by neuroplastic changes.
Trial registration: International Standard Randomized Controlled Trial Number NCT02699398 (Archived by ClinicalTrials.gov at https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02699398?term=NCT02699398&rank=1).
Keywords: computer applications software; hemiparesis; movement disorder; physical therapy; recovery of function, neuroplasticity; stroke; transcranial magnetic stimulation.
©Belén Rubio Ballester, Jens Nirme, Irene Camacho, Esther Duarte, Susana Rodríguez, Ampar Cuxart, Armin Duff, Paul F.M.J. Verschure. Originally published in JMIR Serious Games (http://games.jmir.org), 07.08.2017.