A new study has found that certain video games can improve pain and functionality in burn victims.

Some people see video games as a distraction or at best a toy that offers little real-world value. However, if used properly, video games can have a number of mental and emotional benefits, according to the American Psychological Association. These include improving social skills, boosting learning capability and improving overall cognitive function. Video games may also provide the basis for improved wound care regimens. As The Star Online reported, Australian researchers are using the Nintendo Wii to help reduce pain in burn victims

Reaffirming control

The Wii was used as part of a recent pilot study from the Burn Injury Research Node at the University of Notre Dame Australia. The study featured 22 participants – 17 men and five women – who had burns on at least 10 percent of their body, specifically their hands. Even in the initial stages, the results were rather promising. After playing the Wii for just 20-30 minutes per day for a full week, the intensity of each participant’s pain level dropped by an average of 17 percent. Why did video games prove so effective, especially when standard treatments like cryotherapy and painkillers don’t always work?

According to lead author Dale Edgar, it all stems from nerve damage. Normally pain is a good thing, as it protects us from subsequent harm. However, in burn victims, nerves aren’t sending vital information and are instead firing randomly, as Edgar explained. This nerve damage often causes burn victims to have trouble with complex movements and even lose the inherent ability of understanding where one’s body is located both temporally and spatially. By playing the Wii – which causes people to move around in the real world as they play simulated rounds of golf and tennis – the patients were able to redevelop basic hand coordination. Plus, having a TV in front of them gave patients more direct feedback about the location of their body.

“We are trying to tell the nerves that they need to tell us where that hand is in space, how it is moving, and to give good positive feedback rather than the negative pain feedback,” Edgar said.

In the coming months, Edgar and his team will begin similar experiments using Microsoft’s Xbox, as the Kinect device operates similar to the Wii.

Plus one for video games

As novel as the Wii study might appear, this isn’t the first time that video games have been used to help treat wound-related pain.

As NBC News reported, a virtual reality system was developed in 2012 to help severe burn victims. SnowWorld, as it’s called, saw patients control a figure as it traveled along a series of Arctic caverns and glaciers. According to the team behind SnowWorld, the VR system was meant to serve as a distraction as people underwent wound scrubbing, dressing removal and other forms of burn-related treatment. And the icy interiors of SnowWorld provided to be quite effective. In a 2011 study organized by various military doctors and researchers, SnowWorld was found to be more effective than morphine in many cases.

The same premise that makes SnowWorld so effective – distracting patients – also led to the creation of the Get-Well Gamers organization. Founded by Ryan Sharpe, who spent much of childhood hospitalized, GWG refurbishes video game systems and sends them to hospitals worldwide. According to the Pain Resource Center, these kinds of options are especially vital for burn and trauma patients. Having a way to vent stress and something to look forward to can make hours of treatment and recovery seem far less overwhelming.

Ask your clinician which Advanced Tissue products are best for your wound care needs.