An Alternative Approach to Sports Injuries

alternative approach to sports injuries

Dayton Kelly

An Alternative Approach to Sports Injuries

Virtual reality devices have flooded the gaming and entertainment markets. Advances in realism and affordability have stolen the hearts of consumers, increasing their commonality in homes. While it has certainly attracted the eye of the public, virtual reality has also struck the interest of exercise physiologists. Presently in the research spotlight are virtual reality devices designed to improve rehabilitation exercise programs for an alternative approach to sports injuries for clinical and geriatric populations (Howard, 2017).

Traditional rehabilitation programs consist of simple, repetitive exercises that are often considered tedious (Howard, 2017; Fung, Richards, Malouin, McFadyen, & Lamontagne, 2006). Lack of interest and motivation to perform the program reduces adherence and effort during exercise, compromising performance outcomes (Richard, Christina, Deborah, Rubio, & Kennon, 1997; Buckworth, Lee, Regan, Schneider, & DiClemente, 2007; Howard, 2017). These issues surrounding rehabilitation training have stimulated the development of more engaging programming: most recently, an alternative approach to sports injuries rehabilitation training that incorporates the use of virtual reality devices.

Within such programs, exercisers interact with virtual environments in manners specific to their rehabilitation protocol. That is, the virtual experience might be designed as a game in which the individual performs the same motion as a traditional rehabilitation program but they receive some type of reward within the game for each successful enaction (Howard, 2017).

For example, balance training programs often include exercises in which one must shift their center of mass without moving their feet; such a program can be refitted to virtual reality skiing games in which exercises must shift their weight to complete turns (Cho, Lee, & Song, 2012). By providing in-game incentive, virtual reality rehabilitation changes the reward profile of rehabilitation from delayed gratification (recovery from injury) to a more instantaneous reward profile (success within the game).  Accordingly, virtual reality rehabilitative training has been repeatedly demonstrated to be considered more enjoyable than regular training (Howard, 2017; Bryanton, et al., 2006).

Related Article: The Top 3 Tips to Improve Your Balance

So its more fun, but does it work?

In a recent meta-analysis (which analyses all relevant investigations), virtual reality rehabilitative training was compared to traditional rehabilitative training (Howard, 2017). Twenty-seven studies which directly compared virtual reality training groups to traditional training groups met the inclusion criteria. Virtual reality training was demonstrated to be not only equivalent but superior to traditional rehabilitative approaches in terms of improvements in muscular strength, motor coordination, balance, and walking (Howard, 2017). While differences in strength between virtual reality and traditional styles were the only measure to reach statistical significance, between group comparisons for each individual aspect of fitness were made using only the fraction of the total 27 studies that recorded it. When investigations of each modality of fitness were pooled, virtual reality demonstrates significantly better improvements in performance relative to traditional rehabilitative training (Howard, 2017).

Why is virtual reality better?

After determining the superiority of virtual reality rehabilitation as an alternative approach to sports injuries, the authors of the meta-analysis sought to determine why. Review of the literature revealed three common hypotheses that may explain why virtual reality is offering greater results:

1. Excitement.

As mentioned previously, virtual reality training is perceived as more exciting and enjoyable than traditional rehabilitative training (Howard, 2017; Brütsch, et al., 2010). This is thought to lead to better program adherence and more effortful training (Howard, 2017).

2. A similarity to real movement patterns.

Where traditional training may prescribe abstract-resistance training motions to improve the capacity to perform everyday tasks, virtual reality can create virtual representations of the everyday task stimulating participants to engage in more natural movement patterns (Howard, 2017; Subramanian, Lourenço, Chilingaryan, Sveistrup, & Levin, 2013). This may better improve functional outcomes such as the capacity to open a door or grab objects from a shelf (Howard, 2017).

3. Mimics a natural environment.

Virtual reality training can mimic the environment and stressors of truly performing the task that is being rehabilitated (Howard, 2017). Multitasking during training, by holding a conversation or remembering directions, can better prepare rehabilitated patients for the realities of performing the tasks in daily life (Howard, 2017). By performing simulations of the rehabilitated task, patients may be more confident in performing such tasks in their own life (Howard, 2017).


alternative approach to sports injuriesGiven the demonstrated advantages of virtual reality as an alternative approach to sports injuries rehabilitative training, it is unsurprising that engineers and scientists are continuing to work towards developing better virtual reality environments and apparatuses for training. As this technology is demonstrating promise despite being still in its infancy, there are high hopes for the development of training programs that even further accelerate rehabilitation (Howard, 2017). As issues with excitement and enjoyment of exercise are also common in healthy populations, it is likely virtual reality may begin to become more strongly immersed in the training of healthy individuals (Richard, Christina, Deborah, Rubio, & Kennon, 1997; Buckworth, Lee, Regan, Schneider, & DiClemente, 2007).

Training healthy individuals often require greater weight and equipment, a likely limiting factor to both research and commercial efforts to date. Products, however, are beginning to be developed. Needless to say, it may be worth taking a closer look at fitness driven virtual reality products in your local technology stores!

Related Article: Injured? Increase Your Muscle Mass with Blood Flow Restriction Training

You Might Like:

Woman eating chocolate bar.

Does Dark Chocolate Aid In Muscle Recovery?

Hunter Bennett What do exercise enthusiasts, elite athletes, and weekend warriors all have in common? They all exercise hard. This means that to get the best results from their training, they need to make certain...
Man and woman flexing

Muscular Potential: Men vs Women

It has long been thought that when it comes to building muscle, women are at a massive disadvantage. Whether it be because of hormone levels, muscle fiber distribution, or some other factor that we aren’t...
Man weightlifting at the gym

The Effects Of Inter-Set Stretching On Muscle Growth

When we think about building muscle, developing strength, and generally increasing performance, strength training often sits right at the top of the lift. Which is fair enough, because it works, and works incredibly well. But...

Exercising With An Autoimmune Disorder

Hunter Bennett Exercise is hands down the most important thing you can do for your body. It improves the health of your heart, muscles, and bones, staves off the onset of physical and mental illness,...
Man running on a path

The Autoimmune Athlete

Hunter Bennett Being an elite athlete poses a unique set of challenges that very few people are emotionally, physically, and mentally prepared for. Gruelling training sessions, an incredibly strict diet, and a lifestyle that is...

Brütsch, K., Schuler, T., Koenig, A., Zimmerli, L., Mérillat, S., Lünenburger, L., . . . Meyer-Heim, A. (2010). Influence of virtual reality soccer game on walking performance in robotic assisted gait training for children. Journal of neuroengineering and rehabilitation, 7(1), 15. doi: .

Bryanton, C., Bosse, J., Brien, M., Mclean, J., McCormick, A., & Sveistrup, H. (2006). Feasibility, motivation, and selective motor control: Virtual reality compared to conventional home exercise in children with cerebral palsy. Cyberpsychology & behavior, 9(2), 123-128. doi:10.1089/cpb.2006.9.123.

Buckworth, J., Lee, R. E., Regan, G., Schneider, L. K., & DiClemente, C. C. (2007). Decomposing intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for exercise: Application to stages of motivational readiness. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 8(4), 441-461. doi:

Cho, K. H., Lee, K. J., & Song, C. H. (2012). Virtual-reality balance training with a video-game system improves dynamic balance in chronic stroke patients. The Tohoku journal of experimental medicine, 228(1), 69-74. Retrieved from

Fung, J., Richards, C. L., Malouin, F., McFadyen, B. J., & Lamontagne, A. (2006). A treadmill and motion coupled virtual reality system for gait training post-stroke. CyberPsychology & behavior, 9(2), 157-162. doi:10.1089/cpb.2006.9.157.

Howard, M. C. (2017). A meta-analysis and systematic literature review of virtual reality rehabilitation programs. Computers in Human Behavior, 70, 317-327. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2017.01.013.

Richard, M., Christina, M. F., Deborah, L. S., Rubio, N., & Kennon, M. S. (1997). Intrinsic motivation and exercise adherence. Int J Sport Psychol, 28(4), 335-354. Retrieved from

Subramanian, S. K., Lourenço, C. B., Chilingaryan, G., Sveistrup, H., & Levin, M. F. (2013). Arm motor recovery using a virtual reality intervention in chronic stroke: Randomized control trial. Neurorehabilitation and neural repair, 27(1), 13-23. doi:10.1177/1545968312449695.

Girl riding bike wearing virtual reality goggles

Virtual Reality Exercise

Exercise and the Afterburn Effect

Exercise and the Afterburn Effect

Are Plant-Based Protein Drinks Effective for Exercise Recovery?

Are Plant-Based Protein Drinks Effective for Exercise Recovery?

Is Milk the Perfect Recovery Drink?

Is Milk the Perfect Recovery Drink?

girl on her phone

Cell Phone Activity Trackers

Effects of Dehydration on Athletic Performance

Effects of Dehydration on Athletic Performance

Ice Baths- Help or Hinder?

Ice Baths- Help or Hinder?

Woman standing on the beach in athletic gear pointing at the sky

The Best Workout Combination: Endurance Training and HIIT

Muscle Growth and Loss

Muscle Growth and Loss

FODMAP and exercise

FODMAPS and Exercise

Leave a Reply