Physical therapy centers are increasingly turning to Ninetndo’s Wii video game console as an effective method of rehab. Wiihabilitation, as the practice is commonly referred to, is being used in general and veterans' hospitals throughout the U.S., and has become so popular that case studies are beginning to appear in medical literature. Wii’s motion-sensing technology makes it a great tool for physical therapy, where strenuous repeated movement is necessary. The console is also markedly cheaper than similar equipment specifically designed for physical therapy, cheap enough for patients to use at home.

The Wii is being used to rehab everything from broken bones to spinal cord injuries, strokes and combat wounds. It helps build hand-eye coordination, cognitive and problem solving skills, strength, flexibility, balance, and endurance.

Rehabbing with a video game lets patients distract themselves from the fact that they are painfully pushing their bodies beyond their limits.

“I might notice the pain in the first minute. But then I get into the game, and I totally forget about it. Then it just becomes fun, and I just try to focus on the game,” said Army Spc Matt Bell, who is using the Wii as part of his rehab to recover from a sniper wound at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington DC. Bell is profiled in the September edition of the Army’s “Soldiers” magazine, an issue devoted to video games and the military.

Patients sometimes get so involved with the game that they don’t even realize they’re in pain until the therapy session is over. Playing also lessens depression, a common occurrence in therapy patients.
The social and competitive nature of the Wii can help motivate new patients as they enter the first stages of therapy.

In addition to physical benefits, the Wii can provide valuable psychological aid as well, as it has proven to help recently returned veterans resocialize.

“You’ll see these guys who keep to themselves. They don’t really talk to anyone. But then they start playing against other people, and they become totally different,” said Bell.

By Mark Alvarez