New research from the University of Sydney has found home-based video-game exercises can reduce chronic low back pain in older people by 27%, which is comparable to benefits gained under programs supervised by a physiotherapist.

Published today in Physical Therapy Journal, this first-of-its-kind study investigated the effectiveness of self-managed home-based video game exercises in people over 55 years using a Nintendo Wii-Fit-U.

Low back pain (LBP) is the most disabling and costly musculoskeletal condition worldwide with most of this burden among older people who develop chronic symptoms.

Treatment option for older people

Chronic LBP becomes more severe and disabling with age, and can have a significant impact on physical functioning such as balance, strength and walking speed.

"Our study found that home-based video game exercises are a valuable treatment option for older people suffering from chronic low back pain as participants experienced a 27% reduction in pain and a 23% increase in function from the exercises," said Dr Joshua Zadro, a physiotherapist and postdoctoral research fellow from the University of Sydney School of Public Health.

"Participants practiced flexibility, strengthening and aerobic exercises for 60 minutes, three times per week at home without therapist supervision, and the effect of the 8-week video-game program was comparable to exercise programs completed under the supervision of a physiotherapist," said Zadro.

"Structured exercise programs are recommended for the management of chronic LBP, but there is poor compliance to unsupervised home-exercises. Our study, however, had high compliance with video-game exercises, with participants completing on average 85% of recommended sessions," said Zadro.

"Video-game exercises are interactive, have video and audio instructions, provide feedback on a patient's technique and scores them by their performance. These features are extremely motivating and likely explain why compliance to this program was much higher than other trials that have instructed patients to exercise without supervision," said Zadro.

"These exercise programs could be a unique solution to increase older people's motivation to self-manage their chronic LBP through home-exercise and improve their ability to continue with their daily activities despite having pain," said Zadro.

"This home-based program has great potential as supervised physiotherapy visits can be costly and people who live in remote or rural areas can face barriers accessing these services. Older people with poor physical functioning also prefer home-based exercises as traveling to treatment facilities can be difficult," said Zadro.