Wii-Habilitation: Medical Use of the Nintendo Wii


Until very recently, the thought of rehabilitation patients bowling, golfing, boxing, and playing baseball within a medical facility or office were not only outrageous, but impossible. Well, times have changed, and Nintendo's Wii console is steadily making its way into hospitals...

Until very recently, the thought of rehabilitation patients bowling, golfing, boxing, and playing baseball within a medical facility or office were not only outrageous, but impossible. Well, times have changed, and Nintendo’s Wii console is steadily making its way into hospitals and physical therapy clinics as a way of supplementing and accelerating patients’ recovery processes. It has shown to be a great resource for patients who have suffered stroke and spinal cord injuries and has been shown to help with visual and cognitive skills, problem solving, balance, coordination, and upper- and lower-body strength and endurance.

Child’s Play

The Wii can be especially helpful to children, who may sometimes have a tough time understanding that the pain associated with rehabilitation will actually improve the body. Physical therapists have documented amazing results and much improved concentration and focus for children who supplement their rehab with playing the Wii. The fact that the video game-based therapy can be fun allows the children to get caught up in the game and its motions, which in turn alleviates their pain and discomfort. There is no doubt that a child would opt to play a video game for 30 minutes rather than tossing a tennis ball against a wall or squeezing a piece of putty in their hand. The game not only helps improve muscle movement, but exercises the mind, which can be just as important in the recovery process. Studies have shown that children burn three times as many calories playing active video games compared with traditional hand-held games.

Just ask 10-year-old Stephan May how Wii helped him rehab after he had been diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. Stephan entered the hospital with excruciating pain in his leg, and left the hospital after three weeks of rehabilitation, supplemented with some Wii gaming, free of pain and able to rejoin his soccer team by the end of last year. Craig May, Stephan’s father, explained that “[when] Stephen was playing videogames in the hospital, he wasn’t focused on the pain; the games actually took the pain away,” while simultaneously improving his strength and endurance. Physical therapist Jody Raugh, who uses the gaming system for her bone-marrow transplant patients at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, also recognizes the positive effects of the Wii. She uses the unit at least once a day and stresses the benefit to her patients—who have strength and endurance issues following treatment—of having something fun to look forward to.

In some cases, the Wii is nothing more than a fun video gaming system, and for some, that is all it needs to be. Joshua Hotard, a 9-year-old who had been diagnosed with leukemia and recently received a life-saving bone marrow transplant, can understand that. It can be so engaging that playing the system can make one forget about everything else going on, which can be the best medicine sometimes.

A Stroke of Genius!

Older patients are reaping the benefits of the Wii as well. Many stroke patients are finding that the Wii can strengthen arm and leg movement. Take Carol Mirabella, who suffered a stroke eight years ago and just took part in a two-week study in which she was given neurostimulation while also playing the Wii. Carol told researchers that she “used to knock everything over, but when I pick up a glass or something [now], I can pick it up better.” She credits the added strength in her left arm to her video game playing. Jerry Pope, a 77-year-old stroke victim, has also reaped the benefits of what is being referred to as “Wii-habilitation.” He told physical therapists at theSister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, “Not only am I moving the hand, my feet are moving, I am jumping around, it is as if I am really playing the game. It is motivational [and] makes you feel like you are progressing, even if you are not, and that helps you.” Craig Schmidt of Mercy Fairfield Hospital is also familiar with the Wii’s healing powers; he incorporated it into patient Barry Brewer’s rehab program after he had his hip replaced. Schmidt explained that “We can get them bearing weight on their nice new hip or knee. They can work on balance and weight-bearing standing, plus have a little competition mixed in.” Even injured soldiers in Landstuhl, Germany are “regaining their strength by playing virtual games on the Wii.”

No matter if it is being used to help physical therapy patients take their mind off of their painful exercise routines; assist stroke patients in recovering movement in their limbs; or simply take cancer patients’ minds off of their exhausting and mentally wearing chemotherapy, the Nintendo Wii has proven itself to be a valuable resource in the healthcare setting. Neurologists, physical therapists, and hospitalists will surely continue to find new ways to incorporate this system into their patients’ daily routines, and there is no doubt that more games and programs will be designed with these patients in mind. And although stock market analysts may have been able to predict the popularity of Nintendo’s finest game system achievement, it’s doubtful that anyone could have seen “Wii-habilitation” on the horizon.

Want to see“Wii-habilitation” in action? Check out these websites, showing a burn victim and a stroke victim using the Wii in their rehabilitation process:



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