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Will a Wii help relieve your back pain?

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A University of Sydney study has shown promising results for reducing chronic back pain when patients undergo a home-based video game program of activity.

But the game must be one where they practise flexibility, strengthening and aerobic exercises for 60 minutes, three times per week at home.

The exercises are undertaken without therapist supervision, and the effect of the eight-week video-game program was comparable to exercise programs completed under the supervision of a physiotherapist.

Published in Physical Therapy journal, this first-of-its-kind study investigated the effectiveness of self-managed home-based video game exercises in people over 55 years using a Nintendo Wii-Fit-U.

“Our study found that home-based video game exercises are a valuable treatment option for older people suffering from chronic low back pain as participants experienced a 27 per cent reduction in pain and a 23 per cent increase in function from the exercises,” said Dr Joshua Zadro, a physiotherapist and postdoctoral research fellow from the University of Sydney School of Public Health.

Dr Zadro also said the interactive video treatment program was shown to be extremely motivating and the resulting compliance to this program was much higher than other trials that have instructed patients to exercise without supervision.

Poor compliance to unsupervised home exercises continues to be a concern for treatment options with low back pain sufferers. Another bonus, the research suggests is that older people with poor physical functioning also prefer home-based exercises as travelling to treatment facilities can be difficult.

“These exercise programs could be a unique solution to increase older people’s motivation to self-manage their chronic LBP through home exercise and improve their ability to continue with their daily activities despite having pain,” he explained.

A recent paper in the Lancet discussed how low back pain is becoming rapidly prevalent in in high-income countries and a major global challenge. The Lancet article also discussed the challenges for treatment and highlighted the need for low cost and accessible treatments for a condition that is expected to to triple by 2050, in the population over 60 years old.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) estimates that one in six Australians (16 per cent, equalling 3.7 million people) reported back problems in 2014–15.

The AIHW also says that back problems are among the most commonly managed conditions in general practice. In 2015–16, 3.1 of every 100 GP-patient encounters were for the management of back problems — about 3.7 million GP encounters. This has increased significantly from 2.6 of every 100 GP-patient encounters in 2006–07.

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