A small number of studies have shown that gaming-based exercise can improve pain, disability, function, strength, flexibility, aerobic capacity and wellbeing in people with low back pain.10-16
However, results of the studies are limited by the small number of included participants and investigation of short-term exercise programs or short-term effects.
In addition, the studies investigated different ‘exergaming’ methods and did not always investigate gaming as the sole exercise intervention.
You can read a short summary of these studies below.
Wii Fit yoga for 4 weeks10
Participants: 30 women (mean age 44–50 years) with low back pain lasting more than 2 months.
Intervention: A 4-week exercise program consisting of physical therapy or Nintendo Wii Fit yoga.
Program: The Wii Fit yoga exercise program consisted of 12 sessions, with each session lasting 30 minutes. Activities included deep breathing and a variety of poses (half-moon, warrior, tree, chest to knee, chair, palm tree).
Control exercises consisted of 30 minutes each of trunk stabilisation and conventional physical therapy.
Findings: There were significant improvements in pain (p < 0.05), disability (p < 0.05) and fear avoidance (p < 0.01) scores with Wii Fit yoga versus physical therapy exercises, although improvements were seen in both groups.10
Wii Fit Plus for 8 weeks11
Participants: 30 women (mean age 68 years) with chronic low back pain.
Intervention: An 8-week exercise program consisting of strength exercises and core training alone or in addition to exercises using Nintendo Wii Fit Plus.
Program: Exercise sessions lasted 90 minutes each and were performed three-times per week.
Findings: Pain scores significantly improved in both groups (p = 0.0001) but balance did not improve in either group.
Capacity to sit improved only in women who exercised using Nintendo Wii Fit in addition to undertaking strength and core training (p = 0.04), although the effect size was small.11
Multicomponent exercise for 6 weeks12
Participants: Six participants (four females, mean age 50 years) with non-specific low back pain (lasting more than 3 months).
Intervention: A 6-week multicomponent activity program. There was no control group and the study did not investigate exercise as the sole intervention.
Program: Participants could self-select exercise activities at Week 5, with exergaming included as one of the potential activities.
Findings: Following the 6-week program, there were significant improvements in back strength scores (23%), aerobic capacity (23%), negative wellbeing scores (32%) and disability scores (16%).
ValedoMotion for nine sessions13
Participants: 20 participants (eight female) with non-specific low back pain lasting longer than 4 weeks. They were described as having at least moderate disability (Oswestry disability index > 8%) .
Intervention: Nine sessions of home-based conventional physiotherapy exercise or exercise with real-time augmented feedback on performance using a system consisting of a laptop and two sensors attached to the spine (ValedoMotion). Games were controlled by lower back movements.
Program: The home-based exercise program consisted of 3–5 exercises that required 10–20 minutes to complete each day.
Findings: The physiotherapy group exercised for a median of 4 minutes and 19 seconds while the augmented feedback group exercised for 9 minutes and 4 seconds (recorded in a self-reported exercise diary).
However, there was no significant difference in self-reported exercise duration between groups (p = 0.315), and the clinical importance of the small difference in exercise time between groups is unknown.
In addition, both exercise groups had similar improvements in self-perceived disability or lumbar movement control.
Virtual dodgeball over 3 days
In other studies, postural feedback using the ValedoMotion system helped perform home-based exercises correctly (18-week study, 10 participants),14 playing virtual dodgeball increased lumbar flexion over 3 days (26 participants in the treatment group),15 and virtual walking with physiotherapy reduced pain and fear of movement, and improved function immediately after treatment (22 participants in the treatment group).16