We would argue that just about every medical professional would endorse that exercise is one of the best medicines for those with chronic illnesses and that it should be a high priority for their patients. However, inversely, those who suffer from painful diseases that affect muscles, such as fibromyalgia, might find it the least appealing form of “medication.” Fortunately, and thanks to technology, there is a new study for a type of therapy that combines virtual reality and exercise that may turn out to be a literal “game changer.”
The study, “Exergames for women with fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial to evaluate the effects on mobility skills, balance, and fear of falling,” set out to analyze the effects of exergames, a virtual reality-based exercise program, on the mobility, balance, and fear of falling on 83 women who were clinically diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
This study lasted a total of eight weeks. The participants in the control group used exergames twice per week for one hour each session. The women in the control group showed noted improvement in all areas in the small amount of time that the study was conducted. Exergames proved to be a success.
Researchers stated, “These results, along with high adherence, indicate that exergames may be a feasible alternative form of rehabilitation therapy for improving balance and mobility problems in this population.”
So why is this discovery so important for those with fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder that causes musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and issues with sleep, mood, and memory. Decades of research have shown that exercise is highly effective for fibromyalgia management. This includes regular physical exercise and other forms of manipulating one’s musculature system such as massage, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, and stretching. Now exergames too are proving to be an effective treatment as well.
So what kinda “exergames” can a patient expect from this treatment?
Aerobic – The aerobic component of VirtualEx-FM incorporates full-body movements performed by a professional kinesiologist and dance instructor. The user completes a warm-up followed by either a full-body joint movement workout or a dance video similar to Zumba, a popular form of group exercise.
Coordination & Posture – The second component of VirtualEx-FM focuses on improving coordination and controlling posture. In this virtual game, the user interacts with an apple that appears in different locations. The low-impact movements are based on core strengthening exercises. The level difficulty is controlled by a technician which allows the user to continually improve because the difficulty of the program can be increased as the user progresses in strength.
Mobility, Balance, & Coordination – The third component of VirtualEx-FM helps improve mobility, balance, and coordination via a game where the user steps on “virtual footprints.” The study states that the steps range from taking normal steps to tiptoeing to heel-walking, or raising their knees or heels while taking steps.
At present, the use of VR has already proven incredibly beneficial for both patients and practitioners, however, for those with a chronic pain disease, the possibilities for quick and effective rehabilitation is a very promising thought indeed.