Virtual reality technologies may improve treatment outcomes in patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) and may be valuable in rehabilitation programs to improve performance in this population, according to study results published in JMIR Mhealth and Uhealth.

DMD, a rare disease secondary to a mutation in the gene that produces dystrophin, is characterized by muscle weakness leading to loss of function and independence. As virtual technologies have been used for upper limb rehabilitation in patients following stroke, cerebral palsy and neuromuscular diseases, the objective of the current systematic review was to determine the effectiveness of these technologies in the rehabilitation of the upper limbs of patients with DMD.

Following a series of searches in PubMed, Web of Science, Scopus, Cochrane Library, and MEDLINE via EBSCO between June 2018 and September 2019, study researchers included a total of 7 randomized clinical trials published between 2009 and 2019 in the qualitative analysis.

All included studies used new technologies as tools for physiotherapeutic rehabilitation of the upper limbs of patients with DMD.


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The included studies enrolled patients with DMD between 5 and 34 years old. Participants were ambulatory or wheelchair-dependent. The studies included various virtual reality games, including musical games, virtual ball mazes, catching cubes, or labyrinths.

Using virtual devices for physiotherapeutic rehabilitation of the upper limbs of patients with DMD was associated with improved motivation, along with evidence for improvement in quality of life and elbow extension if virtual reality game training was performed at home.

The included studies reported no adverse effects of the use of virtual reality technologies.

This study had several limitations, including the variability of the study samples and the differences between the registered variables, no available data on the correlation between the type of task and the cognitive demand or quality of movement. In some cases, the audio-visual stimulus caused anxiety and did not yield the desired effects.

Based on their findings, the study researchers concluded that “[v]irtual reality can be a great tool for physiotherapy and can be used for Duchenne muscular dystrophy rehabilitation programs to improve patient performance during training.”

Reference

Baeza-Barragán MR, Manzanares MTL, Vergara CR, Casuso-Holgado MJ, Martín-Valero R. The use of virtual reality technologies in the treatment of Duchenne muscular dystrophy: systematic review. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. Published online June 18, 2020). doi:10.2196/21576