Dipping my toe into Wiihab…

Today was the first day I tried using the WiiFit balance board and the WiiFit programme with patients.  Their responses were interesting…two of the group of seven didn’t want to know about it ‘I hate computers and computer games’ they said.  Three of the group were really keen – and one especially (more about that shortly).

And the pain management team members? Couldn’t get two of them off it tonight!

At the moment, the WiiFit project is at the point where I want to see how people respond to the new technology – I’m using it within the three week interdisciplinary pain management programme, not as a ‘fitness’ or ‘rehabilitation’ tool, but as a fun and leisure activity (similar to the way we get the group members to play cricket, croquet, lawn bowls and table tennis).

Initially I just want to see how this group of patients, who are ‘typical’ chronic pain patients, respond.  They’re mainly aged between 30 – 55, mixed gender, pain duration of between 12 months and 15 years, mixed pain sites although mainly low back pain, and funded by both accident/compensation and medical/health sources.

I especially want to see whether patients enjoy this type of activity; whether it does help them exercise for longer than our regular exercise circuit (and increase their heart rate to a ‘working’ rate); and whether they have any particular problems with the technology. I’m also curious about how people who may ‘over-do’ activities (ie, those that don’t readily stop when it might be helpful for them to do so) manage with the competitive elements of the programmes.

In time, I’d like to see whether the WiiFit balance board can be used for people with CRPS in the lower limb, because of the weightbearing and weight-shifting aspects of many of the WiiFit activities.

So, today’s experience was fun.  Two of the partipants were pleasantly surprised by their skill in the ‘one leg balance’ activity.  This involves standing on the balance board on one leg, for 30 seconds, while the balance board records the balance shifts.  One woman in particular was really surprised because she thought her leg was very unstable, and that her balance was poor.  She scored 86% with that leg and was the top scorer!

The two who really didn’t like the idea of the Wii at all were more concerned about interacting with technology than the exercise component – so it may be important to consider familiarity with computer-based technology when thinking about using the Wii in rehabilitation.

On the Burwood Hospital site there are now three Wii units – one in Spinal Unit, which is being used as part of rehabilitation, one in the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Service which is being used mainly for patient recreation, and this one in the Pain Management Centre which is going to be used for rehabilitation.

I’ll keep you posted on progress over time – any thoughts you have about how it might be used in pain management, or things you think might be interesting to research, let me know!  I hope to set up a more formal research project in early to mid 2009, so be quick!




  1. As we already know that music and group interaction can have a positive influence on patients exercise effort I think the Wii shows a lot of potential.

    The idea of context change (and cross-over into a virtual environment) also makes sense particularly with a chronic pain population.

    Can’t quite see how you would sustain an elevated heart rate (in comparison with an exercise circuit) as most games appear relatively brief and would wonder if it’s possible to ‘cheat’ with the Wii with a bit of practice to avoid all those positions that you don’t want to get into (bending, reaching etc)., and get by with a few wrist flicks?

    What about a comparison with SingStar and one of those Dance Mats – I’ve yet to see anyone in my house stay in their chair very long once they’ve found a song they like. It might seem a bit tongue in cheek, but as you identified in your patient group, techno-phobia can act as a deterrent, and I’m sure there are plenty of others who are also tennis and bowling-phobic – which brings me back round to a previous comment I posted about specificity of input, compared with general group approach!

    I guess if it gets you moving, gives you accurate feedback on (and makes you think about) how you are holding yourself, and is fun, then you are probably onto a ‘good thing’!

  2. Hi Mary
    There are a couple of games that are quite good for sustained activity – running (virtual running??!!), and boxing are two that spring to mind.
    You could ‘cheat’ – not sure how you could avoid that, but the tendency is to get immersed in the virtual reality, so i don’t think it’s as likely.
    SingStar would be scary – too many bad memories of waaay too much to drink and very bad renditions of 80’s disco!!! I like the idea of the dance mat though, it would be fun to compare!

  3. It could see the sales of Dancemat and Wii skyrocket – can I declare right now that I have no vested interests in either device?? Though I must admit I’ve paid for an awful lot of x-box games for my kids…

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