VR in physiotherapy and stroke rehabilitation

Activities like walking around, sending messages on your cell phone or emails, or reaching for the coffee cup sitting on the top shelf actually sound simple and easy, right?

But to perform such tasks, many complicated processes take place in our brains and bodies. For stroke survivors and people with neurological and motor damage, it can prove extremely difficult and painful to perform such basic everyday tasks.

Traditional physical therapy practices have a reputation for being tedious, time-consuming and boring, right? Well, technological developments in recent years mean that physiotherapy no longer has to be boring at all.

Virtual reality in physiotherapy

In den letzten Jahren hat die virtuelle Realität ein enormes Potenzial bei der Revolutionierung von Arbeitsabläufen gezeigt. Virtual reality is a computer-generated environment that surrounds the user with the help of VR headsets such as Oculus Quest. To learn more about virtual reality, click here.

As new use cases and applications emerge, the demand for VR continues to grow. Physiotherapy, for example, represents an area where the demand for VR applications has recently increased significantly.

VR-based therapy can help with the following problems:

  • Stroke
  • Neurological and speech rehabilitation
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Coordination problems

VR for physiotherapy

Hardware such as VR headsets, computers with a high-quality graphics system, etc. are required for the implantation of VR technology. Together with this and a few special programs, it is possible to create and maintain your own virtual environment. In the following, it is now possible to decide between an immersive and a non-immersive virtual reality.

For simulated immersive environments, it is necessary for the patient to wear VR headsets. Through these, he can enter virtual reality. While these help in better immersion, they could lead to motion sickness, cyber sickness (so-called mood disorders), etc. The patient could lose interest in this form of therapy due to such a negative experience.

The other type of VR that could be used is the non-immersive type, which is much cheaper to install and use. Here, the computer creates a virtual environment and then provides feedback to the patient by displaying that environment on a TV screen or via a projector.

Augmented Reality kann ebenfalls in der Physiotherapie eingesetzt werden. Bei der Augmented Reality werden reale Dinge in unserer Umgebung durch virtuelle Objekte bzw. Informationen überlagert. You can find more information about augmented reality here.

Of these three options, immersive VR is the most effective and shows better results because the patient is immersed in virtual reality while receiving better feedback.

Information about the types of feedback that VR offers

VR is used to provide both discordant (non-uniform) and mirror image feedback. Both types of feedback can be used to support the patient’s therapy. Discordant feedback is feedback that results from the therapist making changes to the patient’s virtual environment. This type of feedback activates the primary motor areas at a higher level than would be the case with non-discordant feedback.

Regarding the mirror-image feedback, it can be said that it is a type of feedback in which patients see their injured body part moving, while in reality their healthy body part is moving. This form of feedback helps to activate the primary motor function of the affected body part.

VR for stroke rehabilitation

The number of people affected by strokes is increasing. It has become imperative to improve the technology used to treat stroke survivors. The goal here is to reduce challenges while reducing the time required for physical therapy and stroke rehabilitation.

Imagine having to do the same monotonous exercises over and over again. At the same time, you have to pay high fees for appointments with doctors and therapists. It is not surprising that people who need such physical therapies tend not to finish their course for various reasons. Some, for example, are not fortunate enough to have a physical therapist close to their home or the financial means to afford the necessary treatments.

This is where virtual reality comes in by changing traditional, boring treatment methods. With VR, patients don’t have to go through the same physical workouts every day to achieve functional mobility for everyday tasks.

With the help of virtual reality games and other interactive applications, patients not only have fun during therapy, but can also accelerate their recovery process. This is because the mind-body connection is improved through cognitive and goal-oriented interactive exercises.

VR within the framework of physical therapy treatment

VR is used in physiotherapy exercises and helps doctors and therapists to focus exclusively on the affected part of the patient. If a particular patient needs targeted upper body therapy and exercises, apps and games are designed for this purpose. As the patient becomes more immersed in virtual reality, his senses and mental strength are enhanced, which helps in treating neurological problems.

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Using algorithms and data from VR therapy, therapists and doctors can see and track developments in the healing process that the patient has made over time. The data is presented in quantified form, which helps to notice the improvements more quickly.

Analysis of the VR system data

Using the data from each session the patient goes through, reports can be generated. These reports document the patient’s progress. Using these reports, the doctors and therapists can modify or intensify the course of therapy, as they can directly view the changes in quantified form.

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Virtual reality treatment in physical therapy allows therapists to do exercises with patients that might be considered risky or even infeasible in the real world. For example, the patient might cross a street during their therapy. This is completely safe in VR and therefore feasible. Such exercises help to increase the patient’s confidence.

The science that combines VR technology and treatment

Physiotherapy helps to improve the quality of life of a person who has suffered and survived a stroke in the past. Acute and chronic impairments due to strokes can be treated well if doctors have a good knowledge of the pathology and are able to find and select the right treatment for the patient’s rehabilitation. Strokes are nevertheless responsible for a large number of deaths and disabilities.

Strokes are very complex and result in various limitations and disabilities. These can range from deficits in motor function and control, strength, cognitive impairment, to the inability to perform simple daily tasks or tasks efficiently or at all. For treatments, physicians and therapists should suggest therapies that focus exclusively and specifically on the deficit being treated. Virtual reality can help provide targeted treatment.

The brain includes a motor cortex that is responsible for all movements. The cortical motor map shows us the area of the motor cortex that is engaged during the execution of a particular movement.

Motor learning is responsible for the formation of new areas or reorganization in the motor cortex, which in turn changes the cortical maps. Movements or skills that are newly acquired expand over a larger cortex area. All this reorganization of cortex areas can be enhanced by better environments and by performing the same tasks repetitively.

It turns out that patients who need stroke rehabilitation recover faster and much better when therapies and rehabilitation start early and are delivered in an interactive and repetitive environment.


Have you ever heard of neuroplasticity? It is the concept used in designing VR games and apps for patient therapy. When playing such VR games designed specifically for the patient, the brain creates new synaptic connections.

These connections are formed faster when the person realizes that the process is actually meaningful, i.e. that the realized goals are functional. VR therapy is fun and overcomes the monotony of repetitive and insofar boring tasks as well as exercises. This boredom and monotony is a decisive reason why the patient may eventually stop making progress in his treatment.

Using neuroscientific information and the functioning or diagnosis of motor defects, specific patient-related therapy can be planned. This makes the training and exercises fun and interactive.

An example of such a game idea could be the following. Imagine that a patient has a motor deficit in the lower body and needs training for this part. The patient could now play a game in which he has to shoot a ball into the goal. If, on the other hand, it is a motor deficit of the upper body, he has to grasp or hold objects from the upper right and left corners.

In this way, the patient not only undergoes therapy, but also has fun interacting with a 3D simulation environment.

Virtual reality therapy from home

Virtual reality in the context of physical therapy is a relatively new concept. It offers goal-oriented tasks as well as repetitive work and training with a high degree of sensory feedback. Both of these things are critical in neurological rehabilitation. Because this technology is more immersive and fun for patients, it also increases the amount of repetitiveness in terms of training.

With VR technology and headsets such as the OCULUS QUEST, VR technology is also becoming more attractive in terms of price over time. This is because VR therapy can also be performed at home. Patients can perform their physical therapies and exercises at any time in the comfort of their own homes. Doctors and therapists can log in via special portals and keep an eye on the patient’s progress. This not only makes things more convenient, but also more fun, interesting and cost-effective.

VR not only helps with faster recovery and rehabilitation. VR also eliminates the need for personal supervision or the presence of a supervisor. It can allow tasks and exercises to be performed without supervision. This helps patients to be able to perform therapy whenever it is most convenient for them. At the same time, patients can perform their exercises and tasks much more often than is possible with traditional forms of therapy.

Virtual reality to support disabled people

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Virtual reality technology can change the lives of disabled people by means of immersive and non-immersive simulated environments and real-time feedback. By using virtual reality technology, disabled people are able to feel the simulated environment, which is very similar to the real one. VR helps enable people who are physically impaired to acquire basic skills and abilities through play. Without virtual reality, these are often very difficult to acquire.


Virtual reality technology has been used to a large extent in the gaming industry. However, as it has evolved, as well as the ever-growing demand, VR technology has also found its way into many other industries. The search for ever better ways to solve problems, such as in the military, medicine, education, training, etc., has opened up many new areas of application for VR technology.

As VR technology is still in the development phase, we are seeing more and more benefits that it brings to very different industries as time goes on. It’s no surprise, then, that demand continues to grow. Some of the application benefits of VR technology in the context of physical therapy and stroke rehabilitation include:

  • Using VR technology as part of the treatment makes the entire healing process more fun and interactive.
  • The patient’s progress can be quantified and analyzed. On this basis, individual training and exercise plans can be developed or adapted.
  • In addition to physical therapy, psychological aspects can also be treated in conjunction with physiotherapy.
  • Patients receive immediate and lifelike feedback through VR technology.
  • Physicians and therapists can control the simulated environment created for the patient’s treatment.
  • The effectiveness of treatments and rehabilitation is increased.
  • More patients would stick to their treatment plans because they are more fun.
  • Patients can perform activities and tasks that are denied to them in reality due to their neurological damage.
  • Patients can perform their training and exercise sessions in the comfort of their own homes.

VR therapy will not replace the classical methods of physiotherapy and is not intended to do so. But it can significantly increase the effectiveness and speed of recovery of the patient. It should be used together with the traditional methods of physiotherapy.

If you want to introduce virtual reality in your clinic or hospital in the context of physiotherapy and stroke rehabilitation, you can contact loehn-digital.com . loehn.digital offers high-quality VR technology and guarantees optimal results.