Skip to main content

VR Technology May Improve Motor Skills in Damaged Limbs

  • Published: 2016-12-15 : American Friends of Tel Aviv University (aftau.org).
  • Synopsis: Research could be applied to patients in physical therapy programs who have lost the strength or control of one hand

Main Document

Quote: "The research team found that when subjects practiced finger movements with their right hands while watching their left hands on 3D virtual reality headsets, they could use their left hands more efficiently after the exercise."

A combination of traditional physical therapy and technology may improve the motor skills and mobility of an impaired hand by having its partner, more mobile hand lead by example through virtual reality training, new Tel Aviv University research suggests.

"Patients suffering from hemiparesis -- the weakness or paralysis of one of two paired limbs -- undergo physical therapy, but this therapy is challenging, exhausting, and usually has a fairly limited effect," said lead investigator Prof. Roy Mukamel of TAU's School of Psychological Sciences and Sagol School of Neuroscience, who conducted the research with his student Ori Ossmy. "Our results suggest that training with a healthy hand through a virtual reality intervention provides a promising way to repair mobility and motor skills in an impaired limb." The research was published in Cell Reports.

Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing?

53 healthy participants completed baseline tests to assess the motor skills of their hands, then strapped on virtual reality headsets that showed simulated versions of their hands. The virtual reality technology, however, presented the participants with a "mirror image" of their hands -- when they moved their real right hand, their virtual left hand would move.

In the first experiment, participants completed a series of finger movements with their right hands, while the screen showed their "virtual" left hands moving instead. In the next, participants placed motorized gloves on their left hands, which moved their fingers to match the motions of their right hands. Again, the headsets presented the virtual left hands moving instead of their right hands.

The research team found that when subjects practiced finger movements with their right hands while watching their left hands on 3D virtual reality headsets, they could use their left hands more efficiently after the exercise. But the most notable improvements occurred when the virtual reality screen showed the left hand moving while in reality the motorized glove moved the hand.

Tricking the brain

"We effectively tricked the brain," said Prof. Mukamel.

"Technologically, these experiments were a big challenge," Prof. Mukamel continued. "We manipulated what people saw and combined it with the passive, mechanical movement of the hand to show that our left hand can learn even when it is not moving under voluntary control."

The researchers are optimistic that this research could be applied to patients in physical therapy programs who have lost the strength or control of one hand. "We need to show a way to obtain high-performance gains relative to other, more traditional types of therapies," said Prof. Mukamel. "If we can train one hand without voluntarily moving it and still show significant improvements in the motor skills of that hand, we've achieved the ideal."

The researchers are currently examining the applicability of their novel VR training scheme to stroke patients.

Related Information:

  1. I Can FLY - Virtual Reality Initiative for Veterans with Disabilities - Technology enables veterans with disabilities opportunity to enjoy 360 degree virtual reality live broadcasts - BCAST
  2. VADIA Virtual Reality Simulator Helps Teenagers with Autism Learn How to Drive - New virtual reality simulator specifically designed to help teenagers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) learn to drive - Vanderbilt University
  3. EdSim: Virtual and Augmented Reality Learning Experiences Challenge - U.S. Department of Education launches $680,000 challenge for virtual and augmented reality learning experiences - ed.gov


Information from our Assistive Electronic Devices and Software section - (Full List).

Submit disability news, coming events, as well as assistive technology product news and reviews.


Loan Information for low income singles, families, seniors and disabled. Includes home, vehicle and personal loans.


Famous People with Disabilities - Well known people with disabilities and conditions who contributed to society.


List of awareness ribbon colors and their meaning. Also see our calendar of awareness dates.


Blood Pressure Chart - What should your blood pressure be, and information on blood group types/compatibility.





  1. Stuttering: Stop Signals in the Brain Prevent Fluent Speech
  2. New Peer-reviewed Journal 'Autism in Adulthood' Launching in 2019
  3. People Want to Live Longer - But Only If in Good Health
  4. Canada's Aging Population Signals Need for More Inclusive, Accessible Transportation System

Citation



Disclaimer: Content on Disabled World is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. See our Terms of Service for more information.

Reporting Errors: Disabled World is an independent website, your assistance in reporting outdated or inaccurate information is appreciated. If you find an error please let us know.