Video Games Can Help Older Adults With Back Pain, Researchers Say

An attendee at the E3 Gaming Conference tests out the Wii Fit U.
Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

In today’s day and age, it’s a wonder that we haven’t brought video games more into the health field. Apparently, researchers at the University of Sydney felt that way, because they performed a study which found that video games can help sufferers of chronic lower back pain. Healthline says the study was the first of its kind, allowing researchers to examine the positive effects of Nintendo’s Wii Fit U on adults over the age of 55 and suffering from chronic lower back pain. The results of the study, which proved that the use of Wii Fit U helped patients continue at-home physical therapy to ease the pain, were published in the American Physical Therapy Association’s journal, Physical Therapy on September 20.

In the study, patients over the age of 55 were advised to perform recommended Wii Fit U exercises for 60 minutes a day, three times per week. According to Healthline, up to 80% of Americans experience chronic lower back pain, which can be quite debilitating to sufferers. Furthermore, back pain apparently increases as individuals age, but previous lower back pain studies have not included older patients. A physical therapist, Michael Kamme, weighed in on the subject.

“[Older adults] actually need more focus and more attention because they have other complications that can make their lower back pain and general health even worse,” Kamme told Healthline.

Science Daily says that the results of the study showed a 27 percent reduction in lower back pain for elderly patients and an increase of 23 percent in moveability for those with the ailment. One of the researchers in the Sydney University study, Dr. Joshua Zadro, said results for patients in the eight-week program were comparable to those that would be achieved by patients visiting a physiotherapist. Apparently, patients with lower back pain have had trouble sticking with at-home exercise routines in the past. Video games seem to be a way to encourage elderly people to keep exercising.

“Structured exercise programs are recommended for the management of chronic LBP, but there is poor compliance to unsupervised home-exercises. Our study however had high compliance to video-game exercises, with participants completing on average 85 per cent of recommended sessions,” said Zadro.

He further believes that it is the level of interaction and feedback that users receive that helps them keep interested, and as a result, help themselves feel less pain. This is extremely beneficial for those who have difficulty leaving the home for care in a traditional physiotherapist office, or for those who struggle to stay motivated with an at-home fitness regimen.

“Video-game exercises are interactive, have video and audio instructions, provide feedback on a patient’s technique and scores them on the basis of their performance. These features are extremely motivating and likely explain why compliance to this program was much higher than other trials that have instructed patients to exercise without supervision,” Zadro said.