Australian researchers have found that playing video games on the Nintendo Wii console significantly reduces pain for burn victims.
Associate Professor Dale Edgar from the University of Notre Dame Australia's Burn Injury Research Node saw positive results from a pilot study of 22 participants with burns to around 10% of their body, mainly on their hands. The patients were aged from 16 to 59, with 17 men and five women. In total, 15 had undergone skin grafts.
After playing games on the Nintendo Wii for 20 to 30 minutes per day for one week, the intensity of their pain had reduced by 17%, the study found.
Burns can be treated in several ways, including painkillers, cryotherapy (immersion in a -83°C cold cabin) and hypnotherapy. Maybe now video games can be added to the list.
Burn patients suffer from intense pain because their wounds cause damage to nerves, as well as skin and limbs. "In normal circumstances pain is a protective mechanism for us, in a burn situation that becomes maladaptive, it is a problem because the nerves are not giving you good information, they are just firing willy-nilly," explains Professor Dale Edgar.
Damage to nerve function can cause burn patients to lose the ability to understand where their body is in time and space. They can have trouble doing complex or unusual movements, or may avoid them altogether so as not cause pain.
This led the researchers to consider trying the Nintendo Wii to get patients moving by playing yoga, tennis and boxing games. These activities require hand control and get all the joints in the body moving. Using a console and TV also gave the patients direct feedback about what their body was doing.
According to Professor Dale, repeating these exercises can help give positive feedback to nerves. "We are trying to tell the nerves that they need to tell us where that hand is in space, how it is moving, and to give good positive feedback rather than the negative pain feedback."
Using this type of activity in the treatment of burn victims offers an encouraging means of helping patients get used to movement again.
The team is now testing the XBox with patients to see if it too reduces pain levels.