Virtual reality and non-invasive brain stimulation for rehabilitation applications: a systematic review.

The present article reports the results of a systematic review on the potential benefits of the combined use of virtual reality (VR) and non-invasive brain stimulation (NIBS) as a novel approach for rehabilitation. VR and NIBS are two rehabilitation techniques that have been consistently explored by health professionals, and in recent years there is strong evidence of the therapeutic benefits of their combined use. In this work, we reviewed research articles that report the combined use of VR and two common NIBS techniques, namely transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Relevant queries to six major bibliographic databases were performed to retrieve original research articles that reported the use of the combination VR-NIBS for rehabilitation applications. A total of 16 articles were identified and reviewed. The reviewed studies have significant differences in the goals, materials, methods, and outcomes. These differences are likely caused by the lack of guidelines and best practices on how to combine VR and NIBS techniques. Five therapeutic applications were identified: stroke, neuropathic pain, cerebral palsy, phobia and post-traumatic stress disorder, and multiple sclerosis rehabilitation. The majority of the reviewed studies reported positive effects of the use of VR-NIBS. However, further research is still needed to validate existing results on larger sample sizes and across different clinical conditions. For these reasons, in this review recommendations for future studies exploring the combined use of VR and NIBS are presented to facilitate the comparison among works.
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