May 1, 2013 – Have you ever gotten so into a video game that you played for hours and hours and didn't notice that you were hungry until you stopped playing? Instead of fighting that hypnotizing power of video games, doctors that treat people with chronic pain have decided to embrace it to help treat their younger patients!
People may have chronic pain because they have nerve damage from being in a car accident or having an illness. They might have one joint in their body that feels like its on fire when they move it or they may have a whole limb that burns; they could also have a part of their body that is very sensitive to touch.
Getting children to do their physical therapy exercises is often hard because it hurts them and no one likes feeling pain. That's where video games come in to play.
Since video games can be so hypnotizing and engaging, researchers at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington decided to see if they could be used to distract younger patients long enough for their doctors to measure and treat their pain.
"Once they are able to engage with the video game, then they can increase their range of motion, and that's how we treat [the pain]. Because what we know is that distraction is one of the most effective ways to help people with chronic pain," said the hospital's psychologist Angela Fletcher.
The games are motion-based instead of controller-based, which means that the patient has to use their body to play the game. At first doctors analyze how the patient is and isn't able to use parts of their body to figure out how their pain is affecting their body. Then they can adjust the game to help each patient slowly be able to more easily use the painful parts of their body.
The video games also help younger patients feel better about their therapy and lower their anxiety about going to the hospital. They help turn hospital visits into a fun experience that patients can actually look forward to, which makes them more willing to do their exercises and increases their odds of actually getting better!