Playing video games that require rigorous physical exercise is significantly better for women with fibromyalgia than stretching only, the results of a clinical trial suggest. The more strenuous workout the games provide was found to improve exercise capacity and cardiovascular function while reducing pain and fatigue.
Overall, the benefits lead to a lower impact of fibromyalgia on the patients’ daily lives .
The results of the study, “Effects of Exergames in Women with Fibromyalgia: A Randomized Controlled Study,” were published in the Games for Health Journal.
Exercise has long been recommended for the management of fibromyalgia, as it has been shown to improve physical function and overall quality of life. Patients usually are encouraged to perform low-impact aerobic activities, such as walking or swimming, water-based aerobics, yoga, and stretching. However, recent studies have suggested that playing exergames also might be beneficial.
Exergames are video games that require participants to exercise or be physically active, and usually include full-body motion. These games have been described as lowering pain and decreasing overall severity of symptoms, and have been seen, in women with fibromyalgia, to improve health status, mobility, balance, and the ability to perform daily activities.
However, it is still unclear whether exergames are as good as other forms of exercise recommended for fibromyalgia patients. Most studies examining exergames in this population included only a control group that did not perform any type of activity.
To address that gap, a team at the Federal University of Alfenas, in Brazil, conducted a clinical trial in which 35 women with fibromyalgia were randomly assigned to either exergames or muscle stretching, performed three times a week over seven weeks. Each treatment session lasted one hour.
Women in the exergames group were asked to play six subgames of the Nintendo Wii game Wii Fit Plus. The games required rigorous exercises consisting of stationary running for 15 minutes, active movement of the upper limbs for nine minutes, yoga movements for three minutes, pretending to twirl hula hoops for nine minutes, participating in a step class for 15 minutes, and walking with rhythmic movements for an additional nine minutes.
The muscle stretching group performed a set of nine stretching positions, each held during four deep and prolonged breaths. The exercises were chosen to include standing, sitting, and lying positions, and to engage all muscle groups.
The trial’s goals were to determine the benefits of the two types of exercise on fibromyalgia impact, pain thresholds, and exercise capacity.
Global fibromyalgia impact was assessed through the fibromyalgia impact questionnaire (FIQ), which gathers information regarding physical functioning, work status, depression, anxiety, morning tiredness, pain, stiffness, fatigue, and well-being.
Pain threshold was assessed via electromyography measurements at the 18 tender points associated with the disease, while exercise capacity was measured via a test that assessed climbing and descending a 25 cm step. Fatigue in the lower limbs also was assessed with the Borg CR10 Scale, and cardiovascular function through blood pressure and heart rate.
All tests were conducted at the study’s start (baseline), after the first 10 sessions, and after 20 sessions. A total of 21 women completed the 10-session and 20-session evaluations, including 11 in the exergames group and 10 in the control group.
At the study’s start, the two groups were similar in demographics, duration of symptoms, pain threshold, and physical fitness.
But after 10 and 20 sessions, patients in the exergames group showed significant improvements in their FIQ scores, including increases in feeling good sensation, and decreases in fatigue, anxiety, and depression. After 10 sessions, these women also reported benefits in parameters such as missed work, pain, and rested sensation; reductions in stiffness were noted only after 20 sessions.
Most women in the stretching group also experienced improvements across time, but not as clear as those on the exergames regime.
Exercising with the video games also improved pain levels across 16 tender points after 10 and 20 sessions, while those in the stretching group showed improvements in only eight tender points.
Participants in the exergames group further experienced improvements in physical fitness, had less fatigue in the lower limbs, and had better cardiovascular adaptation to exercise after 10 sessions. All of these benefits were more pronounced than those seen in the control group.
The findings point to exergames as a useful tool for managing fibromyalgia symptoms, according to the researchers, who noted that the more vigorous exercise required shorter treatment periods than other types of exercises to provide benefits.
“In conclusion, exergames techniques have demonstrated robust results in improving the symptoms, pain threshold, exercise capacity, and cardiovascular adaptation in women with fibromyalgia,” the team wrote.