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Wii Fit finding its way into rehab

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Injured athletes may find themselves playing Nintendo’s Wii Fit as part of their rehabilitation.

This and other fitness-oriented video games have “great potential” for core strengthening and rehabilitation and may boost compliance with rehabilitation exercises, Sue Stanley-Green, a professor of athletic training at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, told Reuters Health.

“We are looking to incorporate Wii Fit into the athletic training room as far as rehabilitation, for example, on post-operative knees and ankles,” she noted in a telephone interview.

A woman demonstrates an interactive yoga game on Nintendo’s Wii Fit, a new interactive fitness game for Wii system, during the product launch in New York May 19, 2008. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Fitness video games that have the user perform lower-body balance and weight-shifting activities could help patients with weight-bearing rehabilitation after an injury or surgery.

Fitness video games that focus on upper body movement patterns could be helpful in the rehab center as well. Tennis video games, for example, can be used to safely exercise the rotator cuff after injury or repair.

“Fitness-oriented video games are also being used more and more in nursing homes for rehabilitation,” Stanley-Green said, providing a fun way to help elderly people expand their range of motion.

One of the most difficult aspects of rehabilitation is getting patients to perform tedious, repetitive exercises. The entertainment value inherent in video games may help boost compliance with rehabilitation and perhaps improve outcomes.

“Fitness video games have some really good potential to improve fitness in everyone,” Stanley-Green said.

“My daughter is 12 and she has a friend who is very inactive and overweight and has some body control issues and the Wii Fit has really been a good thing for her,” she explained. “This is a child who would rather eat than anything and it’s the first time I have ever seen her say, ‘I’m not coming to dinner, I’m playing the Wii.”‘

“And anyone can play these games,” according to Stanley-Green. “I am illiterate as far as video games but these are games that anyone can have success with. My daughter absolutely hates the fact that I am better at this one balance game than she is,” she said.

As with any physical activity, too much repetition of one type of movement may not be healthy. “There are some documented cases of ‘video-game shoulder’ and ‘video-game elbow’, so using the proper form and technique should be stressed,” Stanley-Green noted. “Of course, ideally use of the gaming consoles should be alternated with other physical activities.”

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