VR Train Offers Treatment-Free Advantages
Medical professionals have told patients for years that exercise helps with fibromyalgia and other debilitating conditions that cause chronic pain, but it’s difficult to be motivated to move when it hurts. However, with the possibility of drug-free relief, some patients were willing to try exergaming.
In exergaming, video games are used to achieve the training goals. In a recent study, researchers enrolled women diagnosed with fibromyalgia into a group-based exergame protocol that focused on improving mobility, coordination, posture control, flexibility, aerobic fitness, and strength. The activities were effective in helping women with fibromyalgia improve their physical fitness.
In another study on exergaming, researchers introduced fibromyalgia patients to physical activity through virtual reality. Not only did they get the benefits of exercise, but the immersive environment of VR helped them distract from pain during exergaming. At the end of the eight-week study, the control group participants showed great improvements in areas such as mobility and balance.
Treatments for fibromyalgia and other chronic pain-related conditions, as well as other physical and mental challenges, have traditionally consisted of pharmacological options as well as non-pharmacological options such as exercise and cognitive behavioral therapy. However, the opioid epidemic in particular has drawn attention to the need for more non-pharmacological options for pain relief.
Researchers aren’t sure what causes fibromyalgia, but the causes can be genetic predisposition, infection, and physical or emotional trauma. There are also theories that irregular activities within the central nervous system could be the instigators. The disorder affects both men and women, but women between the ages of 30 and 50 are more likely to develop the condition.
Symptoms of fibromyalgia include pain, stiff joints and muscles, fatigue, dizziness, memory problems, and difficulty sleeping. People with fibromyalgia also commonly experience depression, in part due to the challenge of chronic pain.
Other conditions that cause chronic pain
There are several medical conditions that cause chronic pain that are similar to those of fibromyalgia sufferers. The main causes are arthritis, lower back injuries, chronic headaches, multiple sclerosis, shingles, and generalized nerve damage (neuropathy). Most of these conditions are also largely treated with medication, but this simply increases reliance on pharmacological options, and often the medications do not completely relieve the pain anyway.
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How exergames can help
Distraction from pain
One of the biggest barriers to managing chronic illness or pain is getting motivated to move. This is often challenging when movement causes pain, but immersive VR games and experiences allow patients to focus on something else.
There are VR games for all levels of activity. Some patients may choose VR meditation and relaxation experiences that allow them to simply enjoy the virtual environment. Others may prefer a little more interaction with a single player game like Beat Saber, where they can cut blocks with a saber at their own pace. It’s extremely satisfying and definitely distracting. Some patients may even opt for more competitive VR games like Echo Arena, where they can either play against others in a virtual arena or simply hang out in a lobby for social interactions. Regardless of what a person chooses, there are plenty of options for immersive VR that will allow them to forget about the pain for a while. It is also speculated that the pain relieving effects may last for a while after the person takes the headset off.
Joint pain can make it difficult for patients to move normally, which limits their mobility. The problem is that a sedentary lifestyle exacerbates the problem and further restricts mobility. If patients can be distracted from the pain long enough to move about in exergames, they can relieve stiff joints and muscles.
Even in simple VR games where the patient engages in simple activities like fishing, they still move. There are also therapy programs specifically designed for patients with certain fitness areas, such as: B. Balloon Blast by VRHealth, a VR game that helps rehabilitate the upper extremities and shoulder.
Coordination and posture
Many patients with chronic pain have poor coordination and posture. Often they also suffer from impaired balance or dizziness. This is especially common in patients with fibromyalgia, who experience dizziness in nearly 75 percent of those diagnosed with the disorder, according to a study in Clinical Rheumatology.
Dizziness affects coordination and posture, which can lead to falls and injuries. Hence this is an important issue. When patients exergame, it helps strengthen their core muscles, which ultimately leads to stronger muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the center of their body. This is one of the best ways to restore coordination and posture.
It should be noted that patients playing with virtual reality should consider playing while seated. This will allow them to build core muscles, improve aerobic skills, and safely get all the benefits of physical activity in VR.
Photo by Adrian Deweerdt on Unsplash
People with chronic illnesses need a support system. One of the challenges for patients and caregivers is that people with chronic pain often begin to withdraw from social activities. Sometimes it’s just easier to stay at home and deal with the pain in silence. The problem is that this can lead to despair, loneliness, anger, and fear.
Virtual reality games allow patients to enter social environments without leaving their home. This is a step in the right direction as VR is immersive. When these people talk to others in multiplayer games, there is a sense of connection. Perhaps just as importantly, the time they spend making friends and playing multiplayer games is the time they don’t focus on their pain, which also means moving their bodies around.
Future of exergaming
Companies that invest in virtual reality know how technology can have a positive impact on other areas like healthcare and potentially benefit countless people if we integrate technology into different areas of society.
Both HTC Vive and Oculus, two of the biggest names in the industry, have invested in both games and healthcare. Late last year it was also announced that Oculus has partnered with VRHealth, a Boston-based Israeli health technology company that provides comprehensive applications to enable cognitive training, motor assessment and pain management.
We know that exergaming helps improve physical fitness, and studies continue to support the fact that virtual reality can help people manage pain. Virtual reality is only just picking up speed and is becoming more attractive for the average consumer. With products like Oculus Quest and Vive Enterprise, patients and healthcare workers have access to standalone headsets that they can use to play games, take virtual tours, or participate in meditation sessions.
With exergaming, patients can experience the benefits of pain relief as well as physical activity. This is a winning combination that could surely change the lives of countless people if we begin to change the way we treat patients with chronic debilitating conditions.
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