Graduation Date

Spring 5-9-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Medical Sciences Interdepartmental Area

First Advisor

Ka-Chun Siu

Second Advisor

Kathleen Volkman

Third Advisor

Brad Dexter


Virtual reality (VR) is an emerging treatment tool to engage people in environments that appear and feel similar to real-world objects and events.1 There are various levels of evidence that VR can potentially promote functional activity and neuroplasticity in patients with neurological disorders like spinal cord injury (SCI).2,3

In this case series, we explored the feasibility of using commercially available immersive VR technology as an augmented treatment in the SCI population and compare participant’s suitability for this intervention. Three male SCI participants were recruited in a subacute inpatient rehabilitation facility and participated in VR intervention twice a week in addition to their conventional therapies. Manual strength and functional testing were recorded biweekly until participants discharged. Training includes reaching activities, wrist rotation, gripping, and thumb movement to simulate real-life activities. A questionnaire regarding their experience with VR training was administered at the end.

All participants had improvement in strength and functional tests. 9-hole peg test demonstrated clinically meaningful change in two of three participants. Manual muscle test changes were 2, 4.5 and 13.5 points individually. Participants with lower manual muscle test scores at baseline showed more potential to change compared to those who had high scores, which would possibly due to plateau effect. Pinch and grip strength demonstrated small changes which were not clinically important. Participants also rated VR technology of high reality level and great enjoyment in the questionnaire. This case series suggests that immersive VR with head mount display may be viable to provide safe and effective treatment for patients with SCI. VR training appears to be a possible adjunct to physical and occupational therapy as a method of muscle strengthening, improving upper extremity function and improving motivation during subacute rehabilitation.