Objectives: To analyse the effectiveness of virtual reality-based interventions within several fields of rehabilitation, and to investigate whether the outcomes of virtual reality-based interventions, in terms of upper or lower limb function, gait and balance, differ with respect to the virtual reality system used.
Methods: A search of PubMed database resulted in an initial total of 481 records. Of these, 27 articles were included in the study. A final total of 20 articles, with neurological, orthoapedic, geriatric or paediatric patients, published between 2012 and 2019, were included in the study. Two independent reviewers selected potentially relevant articles based on the inclusion criteria for full-text reading. They extracted data, and evaluated the methodological quality of each study.
Results: Seventeen studies were included in the meta¬ -analysis. Eight studies analysed upper limb function, with no significant evidence that specialized VR is superior to conventional treatment. Regarding FuglMeyer scale results, the effect of specialized virtual reality therapy was found to be significantly better than conventional treatment. No significant differences between specialized VR and conventional treatment were observed in effects on hand dexterity and gait. There was a significant difference in effects on balance in favour of specialized virtual reality as compared to conventional treatment. Gaming virtual reality was significantly better than conventional treatment for upper limb function, but not for hand dexterity, gait and balance.
Conclusion: Use of specialized virtual reality and gaming virtual reality can be advantageous for treatment of the upper extremity, but not for hand dexterity and gait in all pathologies considered. Specialized virtual reality can improve balance in neurological patients.
Keywords: gait, balance; hand dexterity; lower limb; rehabilitation; upper limb; virtual reality.