Balance Training with Video Games

Video GameMost people know that physical therapy is often used to treat conditions that cause pain in just about all areas of the body. It is prescribed as a treatment following an injury in order to restore normal function. However, another major condition for which physical therapy is used is balance training. There are a myriad of reasons why balance would need to be addressed in a person. Musculoskeletal issues, such as an ankle fracture or recovery from surgery in the hip, knee, ankle and foot, may require balance training as part of the rehab process. Neurologic conditions, including stroke recovery, Parkinson’s disease, and vertigo, generally include balance training in their treatment as well. Basic balance activities, such as standing on one foot, standing on foam pads, and performing ball tosses, are used heavily in most physical therapy clinics. However, more innovative and engaging ways of challenging patients’ balance are becoming more mainstream.

Video games – specifically the Nintendo Wii and the Xbox Kinect – are being integrated into balance training in physical therapy offices as a means of challenging patients in a fun and interactive way. Benefits of using video games to assist with balance training include immediate visual feedback about body position and performance, it allows participants to monitor and track their progress over time and also easily allows clinicians to set goals for their patients, it has been found to be a more enjoyable form of treatment, it increases patients’ self-confidence and desire to participate, thereby increasing ability to improve, and it decreases patients’ fear of falling.

While the use of video games in physical therapy is a relatively new treatment method, there has already been research on its use, which have yielded positive results. Various studies that have explored the effects of video game training on healthy individuals, elderly participants from retirement communities, and patients who have suffered brain injuries have shown that video game training improves speed of mobility and walking, leg strength, overall balance, and weight loss. Programs included those designed to incorporate balance, yoga, aerobics, and strengthening activities. (Nitz, Kuys & Fu, 2010; Agmon et al., 2011; Gil-Gomez et al., 2011).

If you or anyone you know is looking to improve balance for any condition, consider a clinic that incorporates video game training into its treatments. It helps keep therapy fun and gives you an excuse to fire up that gaming system from time to time. Enjoy!

Rob Kohutanycz, PT, DPT

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