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Virtual reality games improve walking, balance in people recovering from stroke, CPSR study finds

OTTAWA _ Virtual reality games, such as soccer and snowboarding, improve balance and walking in patients recovering from stroke, according to an Ottawa clinical trial just published ahead of print in the journal Stroke.

Funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery (CPSR), the study examined the effect of virtual-reality games as a supplement to conventional inpatient rehabilitation in 59 patients at Elisabeth Bruyere Hospital.

Researchers from Bruyere Research Institute and the University of Ottawa found that 30 patients who played virtual reality games while standing (10 to 12 sessions of 20 minutes over three weeks) made greater gains in balance and walking than the control group of 29 patients who played virtual reality games while seated (they couldn’t reach and move as much as the treatment group).

After participating in the trial, the treatment group could walk 10 metres further than the control group in a two-minute test and stand up and move about from a seated position several seconds faster.

The use of virtual reality has particular appeal because “repetition is a huge part of stroke rehabilitation and virtual reality exercise can facilitate repetitive tasks in a safe but challenging environment,” says Dr. Hillel Finestone, a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation and lead author of the study.

“Any way you can increase repetitions is beneficial in the long run,” says neuroscientist Dr. Dale Corbett, Scientific Director of the CPSR. “This study also highlights the benefits of moving towards combination therapies in rehabilitation.”

Bruyere was one of the first rehabilitation hospitals to develop a virtual reality lab on an inpatient floor, thanks in part to the support of Ottawa philanthropists Tony and Elizabeth Graham. Future research will involve the study of the virtual reality therapy in the community, as well as with stroke patients who are unable to stand up.

In addition to Dr. Finestone, researchers on the study include Heidi Sveistrup, Martin Bilodeau, Anne Taillon-Hobson and Daniel McEwen from the University of Ottawa.

The HSF Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery is a joint initiative of the Heart and Stroke Foundation and Canada’s leading stroke recovery research centres – Sunnybrook, Baycrest, Toronto Rehab, University of Ottawa, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and Memorial University. The Partnership is restoring lives through research. Learn more at


Cathy Campbell

Heart and Stroke Foundation Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery


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