Exergaming for older people with musculoskeletal pain

Is it a good physical activity alternative?

A six-week exergaming programme leads to significant reductions in pain intensity and thermal pain compared to traditional gym-based exercise, as well as significant improvements in sway measures. Both types of exercise lead to increased perception of physical exertion and mental effort over time. However, gym exercise was superior in terms of social influence and behavioural intention improvements. This is concluded by a group of British researchers who conducted a randomised controlled trial among 54 older adults.

Exergaming proved useful in decreasing perceived pain and on improving balance in older adults. It was also comparable to traditional exercise in terms of engagement, adherence and flow experience in older people, showing that even this population may benefit from this exercise modality.

The authors suggest that future studies should confirm these effects using commercially available platforms and determine whether these benefits also apply for people with greater disabilities.

> From: Ditchburn et al., BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil 12 (2020) 63 . All rights reserved to The Author(s). Click here for the online summary.

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Expert opinion

One of the greatest barriers to implementing exercise programmes is engaging patients consistently. On the other hand, there may be a concern that exergaming does not provide a sufficient training stimulus.

However, as is shown here, this is even a viable option even in older adults, who may not be the first population we think about when considering an exergaming intervention. It really is never too late to have fun, and if we can combine the physical effects of exercise with an engaging environment, the outcomes of patients are bound to be better, whether the person in front of us is 8 or 80 years old.

As the authors mention, it would be important to determine the effects of these interventions with commercial platforms, as it would significantly broaden their application and maintain engagement at home. Nevertheless, these are encouraging findings which show that achieving positive outcomes in chronic musculoskeletal pain does not have to be boring.

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