Gaming Takes Physical Therapy Program to the Next Level

At the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC, doctors are taking a new approach to pain therapy. Patients are encouraged to be active through the use of interactive video gaming consoles such as the Xbox 360. This new type of therapy allows doctors to track data and progress of patients, while the children are physically and mentally stimulated in order to improve their health.

“The games, which [operate] on Microsoft’s Xbox and its Kinect controller, include two games that work the upper body and one that players control by shifting their weight from side to side,” reports The Washington Post. “The Kinect, which responds to players’ movements to control games, also allows medical staff to take exact data about how patients’ range or dexterity have improved over the course of a treatment. It measures movement on three axes — horizontal, vertical and back-and-forth — and looks at 20 other data points such as the angle of players’ arms to assess how they’re doing in treatment.”

The hospital hopes to expand the therapy program. Doctors could prescribe patients exercises to use with the Kinect controller at home, and then measure their progress through the interactive games at the clinic. This program is currently under development, but it has already helped patients, such as fourteen-year-old Danica Zimmerman who has Reflex Sympathy Disorder, which can cause extreme pain and discomfort from the slightest touch.

“When I’m engaged in something, it takes my mind off it,” Zimmerman said. She started the program with pain in both her legs and right arm. Since then, she has improved and is slowly adjusting to more physical activities and interactions.

“It’s their world,” explains Christina Baxter, the complex’s clinical nurse manager. “I see them come into the waiting room all the time with their own iPads and tablets — this makes [the clinic] a world that engages them.”