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Got Back Pain? There’s a Video Game for That!

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If you have low-back pain (LBP), you’re not alone—it’s estimated that up to 84% of adults have LBP at some time in their lives. Unfortunately, common treatments for LBP can have big drawbacks. For instance, over-the-counter painkillers can have nasty side effects such as heartburn and stomach pain, and prescription opioids can not only cause nausea, vomiting and constipation but also pose risk for addiction. Physical therapy requires travel and can be expensive…and patients often neglect to do the prescribed exercises at home.

It might be time to try a new back-pain treatment that’s been proven to be effective and is lots of fun! Results from a recent study published in Physical Therapy show that home-based video-game exercises can reduce LBP by 27%—comparable to the improvement achieved with physical therapy.

Research details: In this first-of-its-kind study, 30 participants with chronic LBP (average age was 67) engaged in unsupervised video-game exercises at home using Nintendo Wii Fit U for one hour, three times per week for eight weeks. The game provided video and audio instruction, feedback on technique and performance scores and included exercises to improve flexibility, strength and aerobic fitness. Participants completed an average of 85% of the recommended sessions. The other 30 participants in the study remained on a waiting list for treatment.

Result: After eight weeks, those using the at-home video game reported a 27% reduction in LBP and a 23% increase in physical function, compared with the people who didn’t use the game. These results are similar to improvements seen in people who exercise under the supervision of a physical therapist.

Bottom line: This video-game exercise program may be an effective, low-cost alternative to physical therapy for LBP. The game and equipment cost approximately $200, and the feedback, scoring and entertainment appear to motivate patients to use the program as prescribed. Plus, there’s no travel involved (especially helpful for elderly patients with back pain).

Note: Nintendo did not fund or otherwise sponsor this study, and it is unknown whether other video-game exercise programs would be similarly effective.

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Source: Study titled, “Video Game–Based Exercises for Older People with Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” by researchers at University of Sydney, Australia. Date: October 31, 2018 Publication: Bottom Line Health
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