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Video game exercises ‘can help treat chronic lower back pain’

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Home video-game exercises can reduce chronic lower back pain in older people by a level comparable to benefits gained under programmes supervised by a physiotherapist, a study has found.

Researchers said it revealed a “promising new direction” in the treatment of older people suffering from lower back pain.

“Our study had high compliance to video-game exercises”

Joshua Zadro

The study, the first-of-its-kind, investigated the effectiveness of self-managed home-based video game exercises in people over 55 years using a Nintendo Wii-Fit-U.

According to researchers from the University of Sydney, participants experienced a 27% reduction in pain and a 23% increase in function from the exercises.

The study was a randomised trial of 60 participants aged 55 year and over, with the average age being 67 years. It received no funding from Nintendo Wii and no conflict of interest was declared.

Participants practiced flexibility, strengthening and aerobic exercises for 60 minutes, three times per week at home without therapist supervision.

Dr Joshua Zadro, a postdoctoral research fellow, said: “The effect of the eight-week video-game programme was comparable to exercise programmes completed under the supervision of a physiotherapist.

“Structured exercise programs are recommended for the management of chronic lower back pain, but there is poor compliance to unsupervised home-exercises,” he said.

“Our study however had high compliance to video-game exercises, with participants completing on average 85% of recommended sessions,” he noted.

Dr Zadro highlighted that video-game exercises were interactive, came with instructions and provided feedback on a patient’s technique and scores them on the basis of their performance.

“Increasing capacity to self-manage their pain, while reducing the need for supervision, should be a priority”

Paulo Ferreira

He said such features were “extremely motivating” and may explain why compliance was much higher than in other trials that have instructed patients to exercise without supervision.

He added: “This home-based programme has great potential as supervised physiotherapy visits can be costly and people who live in remote or rural areas can face barriers accessing these services.

“Older people with poor physical functioning also prefer home-based exercises as travelling to treatment facilities can be difficult,” he noted.

Paulo Ferreira, an associate professor from the university, said: “Increasing an individual’s capacity to self-manage their pain, while reducing the need for therapist supervision, should be a priority.

“Home-based video-game exercises could be a solution to this problem as they reduce reliance on a healthcare system with scare resources,” he added.

The study findings were published today in the journal Physical Therapy.

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