• The online Community for people with spinal cord injury, their relatives and friends

  • The online Community for people with spinal cord injury, their relatives and friends

  • The online Community for people with spinal cord injury, their relatives and friends

Virtual Reality

How can persons with spinal cord injury benefit from it?

Author of the summary: Silene Stoppa (Swiss Paraplegic Research)

Many people only know about virtual reality in the context of computer games. Its use, however, can also have a positive impact on physical and mental issues caused by spinal cord injury (SCI).

Over the last few years, various studies on the benefit of virtual reality (abbr. VR) for patients with SCI have been conducted. Some concentrate on interventions to minimize chronic neuropathic pain, others aim at minimizing mental symptoms such as fear, depression and negative emotions. Furthermore, a VR project was developed that is supposed to help wheelchair users to deal with barriers in city environments. The results of this study show that VR could be an effective resource for rehabilitation. However, further research is necessary to better determine its manifold possibilities.

Example of a rehabilitation therapy with virtual reality

First study: VR can relieve neuropathic pain

The study by Pozeg et al. was carried out with 20 patients with SCI and a control group of also 20 people. Each participant was given glasses for the VR simulation before participating in various VR sessions. During one session, the researchers touched certain areas of the patient’s back while the patient was observing a virtual projection of his legs that were touched simultaneously.

This technique created an illusionary sensation of parts of their body in which they had lost their tactile perception long ago. The researchers wanted to find out, whether the intensity of the patients’ neuropathic pain was thus minimized. Therefore the participants had to rate their pain before and after the simulation. Indeed the results showed that the VR simulation reduced the intensity of the patients’ neuropathic pain slightly.

Simulation of floating on a river

Second study: VR against symptoms of depression

In the study by Flores et al. two SCI patients were examined. During this VR simulation, the patients were floating along a river. At the same time, the patients listened to “DBT® Mindfulness Skills” instructions. These were supposed to enable the patients to recognize their emotions, to cope with them and, eventually, to accept them.

Before and after the activity the patients had to assess the degree of their depression symptoms. Afterwards, the participants indicated that they felt less fear, emotional imbalance and depression. However, since only two patients participated in the study, this result has a limited information value.

Virtual reality reduces psychological symptoms

Design project: VR can help move in a wheelchair

Even if the project of a team at Fjord Design is not a scientific study, it is another example of VR being used for rehabilitation purposes. The Fjord team’s goal was the creation of a virtual scene to help wheelchair users to find their way in an unfamiliar city environment. 

On the basis of data collected from interviews and online resources, the designers developed a three-dimensional simulation of an imaginary town full of architectural barriers. The participants were thus able to test everyday situations in a risk-free environment and to prepare for how to deal with physical barriers in real life.

The prototype of the project is called “Wheelchair Training Program” and could, if enough sponsors are found, be launched on the market shortly.

Conclusion from the studies

The study results create hope for future rehabilitation therapies for patients with SCI. In fact, they are a great starting point for developing non-invasive therapeutic solutions without harmful side effects. The presented studies, however, were based on small numbers of participants and therefore the results are not conclusive.

Do you have experience with virtual reality? Which emotions did it evoke in you?


Referenced scientific articles and other sources:

[translation from the original Italian blog post]

Comments (0)

There are no comments on this topic yet.
Be the first to comment!

Rate this post

Most Recent Answers
5434 odyssita
Explaining what life with a chronic disability is like
Hi cAro, all the best for your research! I am very curious to hear about the results once they are being published. Thank you for researching this...
6 odyssita 2018-05-02
5380 Wheelie
Good news for all who would like to try out the Scewo by themselves: according the Scewo constructors, the feedback on their invention was so...
5 Johannes 2018-03-12
Ask the Expert
Most Recent Answers
3 Dr._Hans_old 2015-07-20
3 Dr._Hans_old 2015-05-07

Most Recent Blog Posts
Batgirl and Professor X: Superheroes with SCI
The superheroes of the comics are just like us… so how about superheroes with disabilities?
Steve 2020-09-17 In Society
The crying club: Shed the tears, don't hold back!
Crying may not be a sign of weakness but a good way to express your emotions
shannonvlahakis 2020-09-05 In News
Celebrate with the world on Spinal Cord Injury Day!
Today, the 5th of September, is World SCI Day
Most Read
Anatomy and physiology of respiration
Breathing is the most normal thing in the world for us. We hardly think about it, even though we breathe in and out about 20,000 times per day. We breathe more when we are active and exerting ourselves, and we breathe less when we are...
Social skills increase quality of life
Today strawberry yogurt is on Anna’s* grocery list. In front of the dairy section she notices that she cannot reach the yogurt sitting in a wheelchair. Many stressed people are rushing through the crowded store during rush hour and she does not...
Mobilisation / Transferring
What do I need to consider with regard to the shoulders? The shoulder is the most heavily-strained joint with regard to mobilisation – that applies to sitting up and transferring. It is therefore important to protect the shoulders whenever it is...

About the Community
Most Recent Topics
2020-09-07 In Latest
Netflix documentary "Rising Phoenix" about the Paralympics
The Neflix documentary "Rising Phoenix" tells the extraordinary story of the Paralympic Games. From the rubble of World War II, they developed into what is now the third biggest sporting event on...
2020-08-04 In Latest
An unconventional book on ignoring disability
"A picture is worth a thousand words." How about blank pages? Recently, a blank book has been released to express the absurdity people with disabilities are experiencing every day, as there is...
2020-07-16 In Latest
Free masks for high-risk patients with SCI
People with high-level tetraplegia, paraplegics of higher age and those with pre-existing health conditions are more susceptible to a severe development of COVID-19. For this reason, the European...


Swiss Paraplegic Research
Guido A. Zäch Strasse 4
6207 Nottwil

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
T 0800 727 236 (from Switzerland, free of charge)
T +41 41 939 65 55 (from other countries, charges apply)

Be part of the Community – sign up now!