A team of scientists have studied whether prescribing video game exercises at home could help improve chronic lower back pain. The researchers from the University of Sydney, Australia looked at the benefits of prescribing patients self-managed video games, to be played at home. The study was a randomised, controlled trial and the results were published in Physical Therapy. The abstract is available to read online.
The scientists recruited 60 patients, aged 55 years and over, who had been diagnosed with chronic lower back pain. The participants were randomised into 1 of 2 groups. They were either asked to continue their usual activities, which included carrying out unsupervised home exercise prescribed after visits to the physiotherapist, or asked to carry out 60 minutes of flexibility, aerobic and strengthening exercise, 3 times a week at home, using a Wii U Fit with no therapist supervision.
The scientists found that the 8 week video game programme increased participation in the exercise and was comparable in results to the exercise programmes which were completed under the supervision of a physio. The scientists noted that although home-based structured exercise programmes are recommended to help patients manage chronic low back pain, patients can find it difficult to follow the programme and carry out the exercises to the degree needed to improve pain. The study found that patients were able to carry out the exercises and follow the video games for 85% of the sessions. The scientists noted that the interactive nature of the video games, the video and audio instructions, feedback on technique and scoring the performance all helped to motivate the patients and encourage them to play the game and exercise. Participants had a 27% reduction in lower back pain and a 23% increase in function, which were similar results to the patients taking part in the physiotherapy and unsupervised home exercises group.
The study was measured by looking at pain self-efficacy and care-seeking, which were the primary outcomes, and function, pain, disability, physical activity, fear of movement or re-injury, falls, adherence, recruitment and response rates, intervention experience and adverse events. The average age of the participants was 67.8 years. The Wii U Fit exercises improved pain and function, but had no real effect on the other outcomes. People who had been exercising through the video games were more likely to be exercising for flexibility after 6 months.
The researchers highlighted that video games could be a cost-effective way of enabling people with lower back pain to exercise for the recommended amount of time to improve their back. The games units were considered low cost, and set up involved a single session to teach patients how to use the equipment, as compared to the number of sessions required to be run by a physiotherapist. People who live in remote places, would be able to exercise effectively by following the video game instructions.
This study was important because of the ageing population of countries like the UK and Australia. The global number of people over 60 years old is expected to triple by 2050. Lower back pain can cause limited mobility, falls and decrease independence.
People suffering from chronic lower back pain should see their GP before starting any kind of regular exercise.
The scientists pointed out that Nintendo were not involved in the study in any way.
Zadro, J.R., et al., Video Game-Based Exercises for Older People with Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized controlled Trial (GAMEBACK), Physical Therapy, September 2018