"Games can combine physical and cognitive training. They also provide an opportunity of collecting data, thus allowing therapists to monitor the success of the training remotely without being physically present. This enables athletes to train on their own without dependence on treatment sessions. Games also motivate patients to adhere to training in long-term rehabilitation," says Dr. Eveline Graf of the ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences in our MEDICA-tradefair.com interview. Together with her team, she is exploring the potential of the "ExerCube" during rehabilitation after cruciate ligament injuries. "The ExerCube is a device suited for HIIT or high-intensity interval training that enables users to train in a virtual environment," explains Graf.
The virtual reality aspect gives exergames another edge: while the virtual environment is more engaging and thus more attractive than standard exercises performed in an unchanging physical therapy setting, it is not the only benefit. Virtual reality creates immersion – the illusion of being physically present in the non-physical world of the game –, which can change perception of pain and might reduce inhibitions about certain movements or can make it easier for patients to perform the exercises.
Immersion can also support the actual pain management approach. The "ReliefVR" project at the University Hospital Würzburg is currently exploring this application: patients are advised to perform exercises in a VR setting to help relief chronic back pain as focusing on the virtual environment can theoretically decrease the perception of pain.
The "KORA" project creates a connection between the virtual and the real world by combining playful approaches with a conventional therapeutic device ("KORA" is short for "Kostengünstige aktive Orthese zur Rehabilitation und Analytik von kindlichen Bewegungsstörungen", in English: Cost-effective active orthosis for the rehabilitation and analysis of pediatric movement disorders). The project explores the development of an active orthosis, which – along with an app – is designed to help train movement behavior in a playful way and treat movement disorders in children as a result.
"I hope that the potential of this type of adjunct therapy will be realized. The idea is not to replace conventional treatment but to give children and parents the option of continuing the therapy outside the medical office in a simple and playful manner," says Fabienne Erben in a MEDICA-tradefair.com interview. She created the app at the Munich University of Applied Sciences as part of her bachelor’s thesis. The orthosis measures and records the sequences as children practice the respective movements. Parents and physiotherapists can subsequently access this data to track and assess the child’s progress.