How Effective are Video Games with PT?

As a physical therapist, it’s so ironic to me that video games, which are often regarded as a leading cause of sedentary lifestyles among kids, can be used as a beneficial tool in physical and occupational rehabilitation. But whether you want to call it ‘Wii-habilitation’ or ‘exergaming,’ more studies are coming out that prove just that.

In 2013, Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings praised the success he had rehabilitating his knee using Wii Fit, Nintendo’s home video game console that tracks the player’s body movements and actions. About a month after ACL repair surgery, Peterson started playing ski games with the system, which helped him put pressure through the knee, rebuilding his muscles and knee strength.

Like others who use Wii for physical therapy, Peterson said the games:

• Made the process more enjoyable
• Kept him more engaged and motivated during rehab
• Made it easier to set goals and work toward them
• Encouraged confidence in the joint, which promoted a better recovery

Peterson missed most of the 2014 season due to rehabilitation, but the following season he went on to play all 16 regular season games, chalking up 11 touchdowns and nearly 1,500 yards.


Which Console is Best?

That really depends on who you ask. While both consoles rely on player movement, they each operate a little differently.

Nintendo-wiiNintendo Wii is being used in physical therapy clinics, as well as nursing and assisted living centers, to offer a fun, interactive way to get patients and residents moving.

Original Wii games use controllers in one or both hands to get the player employing upper-extremity motor skills. Wii Fit uses a foot platform to challenge lower extremities, while Wii Active combines both with cardio movements.

Therapists at the Center for Physical Therapy believe Wii improves a patient’s:

• Musculoskeletal strength
• Flexibility
• Endurance
• Balance
• Coordination

Wii also allow therapists and patients to track progress and set goals, which helps to visualize improvements.


xbox-kinectKinect doesn’t require use of controllers, rather the patient/player is the controller.

Health care companies and software companies have taken turns finding ways to best utilize Kinect, and are even developing new physical therapy systems based on the Kinect hardware.

Physical therapists who incorporate Kinect say the console assists players with:

• Functional movement
• Improved joint movement
• Muscle toning
• Gesture reprogramming
• Flexibility
• Cardiovascular fitness

Kinect is currently being used throughout health care. A German health care company used it to reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Brooks and Reflexion Health based their Vera Technology home therapy tutor on the Kinect sensor. And Microsoft itself has developed a test program for people suffering from Parkinson’s disease to perform tests and therapy from home.


Other universities and research organizations are joining in and designing their own games based on both gaming consoles. However, exergames like Wii and Kinect should be used as a complement to physical therapy, not as a replacement.

While beneficial, exergames aren’t as accurate as professional PT equipment, and there’s no clinically defined way to use them. As Dr. Hamid Bateni states in this report, “…although Wii Fit training alone did improve balance, physical therapy exercise or a combination of physical therapy exercise and Wii Fit training had a greater benefit.”


Are They Affordable?

If you decide to purchase the latest and greatest, be prepared to spend around $300 and up on the console…then get ready to spend more on the additional gaming software required. The Kinect sensor alone adds another $90 to the Xbox One’s high price tag.

Fortunately, the original Wii and the Xbox 360 are available for a fraction of those prices and are still effective. You can usually find all you need at retailers like Gamestop, or online retailers like Amazon.

If you want to try incorporating a Wii or Kinect into your home PT program, talk it over with one of our specialists and we’ll help you plan the best course of action for your needs. Contact one of our offices today!