Emergence of virtual reality as a tool for upper limb rehabilitation: Incorporation of motor control and motor learning Principles

Mindy F. Levin Pt, Patrice L. Weiss Ot, Emily A. Keshner Pt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The primary focus of rehabilitation for individuals with loss of upper limb movement as a result of acquired brain injury is the relearning of specific motor skills and daily tasks. This relearning is essential because the loss of upper limb movement often results in a reduced quality of life. Although rehabilitation strives to take advantage of neuroplastic processes during recovery, results of traditional approaches to upper limb rehabilitation have not entirely met this goal. In contrast, enriched training tasks, simulated with a wide range of low-to high-end virtual reality-based simulations, can be used to provide meaningful, repetitive practice together with salient feedback, thereby maximizing neuroplastic processes via motor learning and motor recovery. Such enriched virtual environments have the potential to optimize motor learning by manipulating practice conditions that explicitly engage motivational, cognitive, motor control, and sensory feedback-based learning mechanisms. The objectives of this article are to review motor control and motor learning principles, to discuss how they can be exploited by virtual reality training environments, and to provide evidence concerning current applications for upper limb motor recovery. The limitations of the current technologies with respect to their effectiveness and transfer of learning to daily life tasks also are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)415-425
Number of pages11
JournalPhysical Therapy
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 American Physical Therapy Association.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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