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Could The Wii Make Chronic Pain Sexy?

January 9th, 2008 · 13 Comments

Could the Wii make chronic pain a better-understood problem?  Will there soon be Wii-certified therapists?  Will parents now hear begging like this, “Hey Mom, I think I have chronic pain.  I need a Wii to get better!”

If you haven’t heard about the Wii, it’s the newest fad.  Created by Nintendo, it’s an interactive game that uses a tv screen to show games such as bowling, boxing, tennis, and playing the guitar.  Players hold a wand that picks up their body movements, and translates that into action on the tv.  In the bowling game, for example, you go through the motions of bowling while holding a wand, and “your” ball rolls down the alley and hits the pins, depending on how well you’ve “bowled.”  And 2 players can play interactively in games likes tennis.

How does this relate to chronic pain?

RSD/CRPS World News Group recently mentioned that a Wii being donated to a rehabilitation hospital, and how it helped a young boy with RSD, a severe, chronic pain, neuroligical condition.

Games such as Wii can help with chronic pain, especially for kids, in several ways.

1. Distraction
Kids notice their pain less when focused on a game.  Distraction has been used clinically when kids with burn injuries play video games while the painful process of bandage changes is done.

2. Physical conditioning

Kids may like to play games more than doing standard physical therapy exercises.  Fun is better than “work.”  Because the components of Wii are lightweight, it’s easier to use them than something heavier like a regular bowling bowl or tennis racket.

3. Stress Relief
Game such as Wii can relieve stress and anxiety, because relaxation and having fun replace experiencing pain.

However, I think there are 2 other really interesting ways Wii can help those with chronic pain.

1. Playing Wii can help you move normally.
The newest theory about chronic pain is that your brain gets stuck in a pain cycle, and normal sensations fail to get through to your brain.  So pain goes on and on, even after your original physical problem goes away.  In a sense, your brain gets used to having pain -the hamster can’t get off the pain wheel.

And when you have pain, you move the part that’s painful less and less.  This means that fewer and fewer normal sensations register in your brain, resulting in even more pain.  A vicious cycle can develop:  Pain … less movement … more pain … less movement ….

2. Watching yourself moving normally can relieve pain.
If you actually watch your limbs and body move normally while playing Wii, your visual system can see that “everything’s ok.”  This visual input can over-ride pain signals.  What gets to your brain through your eyes may be more important than information coming through other senses.  So if your body looks normal, your brain may cancel out pain signals, because it gives preference to information from your visual system.

Interesting ideas!  Maybe one of you will be the next spokesperson for Wii!  🙂

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13 responses so far ↓

  • Marijke // Jan 9, 2008 at 7:43 am

    Hi there. I just found your blog. Interesting that you should post on the Wii today. I wrote a post on my blog over the Christmas holidays that I bought a Wii, specifically because it would at least get me up and moving a bit. I work at my desk all day long (from home) and tend to not think to get any exercise.

    Well, my Wii arrived yesterday and it’s all set up. I love the tennis game and – it really does give you a bit of a range-of-motion work out. and it’s fun!

  • How to Cope with Pain // Jan 9, 2008 at 10:18 am

    Please let us know if you find any pain relief from the Wii !

  • jeisea // Jan 11, 2008 at 3:31 am

    BBC News’s
    BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Real pain dulled in virtual worlds, Becky McCall reported that Dr Hunter Hoffman has created virtual worlds, designed to “immerse the user so deeply in the virtual experience that their attention is distracted away from the pain”. A research fellow at the Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, Dr Hoffman has used these virtual worlds on victims of burns injuries during wound changes. The patient becomes so involved in the virtual experience that they are not aware of the wound being dressed, normally an excruciating ordeal. In fact what has been done is create a demanding and in this instance, pleasurable experience to dominate brain inputs, leaving little opportunity for incoming pain signals. This immersive, interactive “Snow world” was on display at the Smithsonian Design Exhibition in New York in 2007.
    he wii game is taking this a step further by enticing movement. This is a clever way to retrain the brain with the “it’s ok” message.

  • rachel // Jan 13, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    i don’t have a wii
    not fair stop rubbing it in

  • How to Cope with Pain // Jan 13, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    Rachel, I’m actually hoping if some research comes out soon about the benefits of the Wii, that it could be covered by insurance. And perhaps physical therapy offices will have ones to lend!

  • Debbie W // Jan 14, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    I just ordered one of these today, so I was very excited to read your post! I have Fibromyalgia and so I am hoping that the results that I receive by playing this with my daughters and husband will be very good ones.

  • Marijke // Jan 14, 2008 at 9:53 pm

    Hi, I’m back with a Wii report. 🙂

    While it’s too soon to say if the game is really helping relieve chronic pain, I am playing it every day and it’s improved my mood and my outlook.

    I tend to play the tennis, although I have played the other sports games as well. I’m sticking with the active ones because if I wanted to play ordinary computer or video games, I may as well stay at my desk and use my computer!

    I truly believe that if I continue to play this, I will see an improvement. You really do move around and work up a bit of a sweat if you get into the games.

    So, so far, so good!

  • How to Cope with Pain // Jan 15, 2008 at 5:07 am

    Marijke, thanks for stopping back to report. Exercise is known to help mild and moderate depression, and many feel better after exercising, especially something fun and new. Let us know how it continues!

  • How to Cope with Pain // Jan 15, 2008 at 5:09 am

    Debbie, I hope you too come back to report your results, especially as you have fibromyalgia. Mild to moderate exercise is known to help FM.

  • Keli // Jan 18, 2008 at 7:20 am

    I work for a medical magazine and we recently posted an online exclusive about the Wii and its uses for rehabilitation. If you’re interested in reading what we had to say, visit

  • Steve // Feb 1, 2008 at 11:51 am

    I’d love to see an update too.
    I just was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia at the Mayo Clinic this week.
    I’m 38 and I’ve always loved computer games and I can’t deal with playing them lately. I like FPS & RTS games on the PC, but it’s painful to sit & play them at a computer chair & my focus isn’t good anymore at all.

  • Blake // Mar 4, 2008 at 12:08 pm


    Just happened on this blog while I was searching for research on the WII for upper extremity rehabilitation. I’m a senior Pre-Physical Thearpy major at the University of Nebraska Wesleyan and am looking into doing a proposal on the motivational and physical benefits that the WII provides within patients in accompliment with the traditional means of rehabilitation. (i.e. Biodex machine) Please keep me in mind if you come across any more information on the subject and I’ll do the same.

  • How to Cope with Pain // Mar 4, 2008 at 1:17 pm

    Sure, Blake. I’ll be interested in hearing if you find more info.

    We also just got a Wii at home – one of the rare times my non-athletic daughter is into bowling, tennis…. Yeah!

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