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Games console offers treatment option for patients with rheumatoid arthritis

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Charité-based researchers investigate the effects of physical therapy

A patient during a yoga exercise, following instructions from the games console. Photo: Jan Zernicke, Charité.
Patient with RA using the console's hand-held controller despite severe joint deformity. Photo: Jan Zernicke, Charité.
Patient with advanced RA on the balance board during muscle-strengthening exercises. Photo: Jan Zernicke, Charité.

Researchers from CharitéUniversitätsmedizin Berlin have been investigating the feasibility and benefits of using a home-based animated exercise program in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The study, which involved the use of a console-based program of regular and targeted exercises, showed that animated home-based exercise programs can be beneficial in patients with joint disorders and drastically-reduced activity levels resulting from time constraints or difficulties in accessing physiotherapy services. The motivational qualities of the games console played a crucial role, with the effect found to be independent of the patient's age and disease duration. Results from this study have been published in the journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders*.

Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common of all chronic inflammatory joint diseases; if joint function is to be maintained for as long as possible, physiotherapy and physical exercise are crucial. As regards the challenges of everyday living, however, RA sufferers frequently report a lack of guidance and access to physiotherapy services. The researchers were able to show that console-based exercise programs offer an alternative adjunctive treatment in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. “This program was found to produce the same effects as a conventional home-based physical exercise program, with the console-based approach also appearing to introduce a fun aspect to treatment. This results in improved compliance and enhances the program's effectiveness,” explains Jan Zernicke, Study Coordinator at Charité's Department of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology.

The 6-month pilot study involved two treatment groups and was conducted at Charité. Participation was strictly limited to patients with low RA disease activity scores currently receiving biologics. Participants completed an in-depth induction, which provided detailed instructions on the home-based exercise programs. Afterwards, a group of 15 patients started on a conventional home-based physical exercise program, while another 15 patients started a predefined, animated console-based exercise program. After 12 weeks, participants changed treatment groups, and continued to follow their new regimens for a further 12 weeks. The benefits of flexible scheduling and an increased level of fun appeared to outweigh the lack of supervision associated with the console-based program, as well as the risk of exercises not being executed properly.

An analysis of the data revealed that console-based exercise programs for use at home appear to produce a clear therapeutic effect. “Following the completion of treatment, improvements in physiological function were the same in both treatment groups. Overall muscle strength increased by approximately 12 percent, while mean walk test results improved by 5 percent,” says Jan Zernicke. These results might encourage patients with rheumatoid arthritis to speak to their physiotherapist and/or rheumatologist, and to discuss additional treatment options offered by this and other animated exercise programs. Physical exercise programs that are delivered remotely, i.e. via PC and web cam, are no longer merely science fiction. These programs already form part of normal practice in larger countries such as Canada, and represent an additional treatment option for patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

*J. Zernicke, C. Kedor, A. Müller, G. R. Burmester, A. Reißhauer, E. Feist. A prospective pilot study to evaluate an animated home-based physical exercise program as a treatment option for patients with rheumatoid arthritis. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. 2016 Aug 18; 17(1):351. doi: 10.1186/s12891-016-1208-3.


Department of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology


Jan Zernicke
Study Coordinator at the Department of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology
CharitéUniversitätsmedizin Berlin
t: +49 30 450 513 227

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