Virtual Reality-based ‘Exergaming’ Improves Fitness of Women with Fibromyalgia, Study Finds

Virtual Reality-based ‘Exergaming’ Improves Fitness of Women with Fibromyalgia, Study Finds
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Exergaming, a form of physical exercise based on virtual reality, improves the fitness of women with fibromyalgia, a study says.

The findings of the study, “Effects of 24‐wk exergame intervention on physical function under single‐ and dual‐task conditions in fibromyalgia: A randomized controlled trial,” were published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports.

Fibromyalgia is a complex condition characterized by widespread muscle pain, fatigue, sleep disturbance, and memory and mood issues. Treatment for fibromyalgia is challenging, and normally consists of a combination of pharmacological therapies — antidepressants and anticonvulsants — and non-pharmacological approaches, such as physical exercise, cognitive‐behavioral therapy, and rehabilitation programs.

“Recent studies have reported the effects of rehabilitation programs based on virtual reality (VR). Thus, the use of exergames, which combines physical therapy with VR, achieves additional benefits such as distraction from pain or enjoyment,” the investigators wrote.

Previous studies have evaluated the effects of exergames on balance, fear of falling and mobility skills; and on the impact of fibromyalgia, health-related quality of life and pain in women with fibromyalgia. However, [in these studies] interventions had a short duration (8-weeks) [and] dual-task [two tasks performed at the same time] evaluations were not considered,” they pointed out.

In this study, a group of investigators from the University of Extremadura in Spain carried out a single-blinded, randomized controlled trial (ISRCTN65034180) to assess the effects of a 24-week exergame program on the physical fitness of women with fibromyalgia while performing single and dual-tasks.

The study involved 55 women with fibromyalgia who were assigned randomly to complete a six-month group-based exergame program (exergame sessions of one hour, twice-a-week), or to continue their daily routine with no additional physical activity (controls).

The exergame called VirtualEX-FM, allowed women to work on their mobility, posture, arms and legs coordination, aerobic fitness and strength in three different virtual environments. All sessions were supervised by an expert physical therapist.

Arms’ strength was assessed using the arm curl test. Patients’ mobility was evaluated using the timed up and go test (TUG). Arms’ and legs’ flexibility were assessed with the back scratch and the sit and reach tests, respectively.

All tests were performed as single-task (participants focused solely on performing the exercise) and dual-task (participants had to perform the exercise while counting aloud backward from any number between 50 and 100).

Of the 55 women initially enrolled in the trial, 50 completed the study.

Results showed the performance of women who completed the exergame program improved significantly from baseline to the end of the study in the arm curl test (13.70 versus 15.96 repetitions), sit and reach test (0.87 versus 6.15 cm) and TUG (7.51 versus 6.72 seconds to stand, walk three meters, then sit) tests, when performed as a single task.

Conversely, the performance of women from the control group worsened from baseline to the end of the study in the back scratch (-14.56 versus -18.31 cm) and TUG (7.74 versus 8.79 seconds) tests, when performed as a single task.

In addition, women who participated in the exergame program had better performance in the arm curl (15.96 versus 14.45 repetitions, respectively), sit and reach (6.15 versus -6.92 cm) and timed‐up and go (6.72 versus 8.79 seconds, respectively) tests when performed as a single-task, compared to women who did not practice any additional form of physical activity.

Likewise, the performance of women who completed the exergame program improved significantly from baseline to the end of the study in the arm curl test (13.45 versus 16.08 repetitions), sit and reach test (0.16 versus 4.34 cm) and TUG (8.00 versus 7.06 s) tests, when performed as a dual task.

Meanwhile, the performance of women from the control group worsened from baseline to the end of the study in the back scratch (-17.85 versus -21.63 cm) and TUG (8.65 versus 10.14 seconds) tests, when performed as a dual-task.

Remarkably, when tests were performed as a dual-task, women who completed the exergame program performed better than those in the control group in all tests.

“VirtualEx-FM, based on supervised and group-based exergame intervention, is an effective tool to improve physical fitness in women with fibromyalgia in both single and dual-task conditions. Due to the similarities between dual-task condition and daily living, these results are relevant since the ability to perform daily life activities is reduced in patients with fibromyalgia,” the scientists wrote.

Joana holds a BSc in Biology, a MSc in Evolutionary and Developmental Biology and a PhD in Biomedical Sciences from Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal. Her work has been focused on the impact of non-canonical Wnt signaling in the collective behavior of endothelial cells — cells that made up the lining of blood vessels — found in the umbilical cord of newborns.
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Joana holds a BSc in Biology, a MSc in Evolutionary and Developmental Biology and a PhD in Biomedical Sciences from Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal. Her work has been focused on the impact of non-canonical Wnt signaling in the collective behavior of endothelial cells — cells that made up the lining of blood vessels — found in the umbilical cord of newborns.
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