Medical Moment: Gaming utilized for physical therapy


(WNDU) – More than 130 million people play video games. But for some, it’s about much more than fun. In fact, it’s exactly what the doctor ordered.

Michael Heinrich loves playing video games. But unlike most gamers who use standard controls, he needs to use a specialized adaptive controller. That’s because he lost partial use of his hands after a motorcycle accident left him a quadriplegic.

“And you know I can’t just push buttons, cause you know my thumbs don’t move down,” Heinrich said.

He couldn’t raise his arms over his head. So the controllers were placed up high to build strength.

“I was trying to strength train my triceps by hitting buttons and holding them up in the air for an extended period of time,” he continued.

Therapeutic and adaptive gaming is used to help with spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, stroke, amputation, and other disabilities. This is one of only a handful of labs like this in the country. They play games, like Candy Crush, Plants Vs. Zombies, and Rocket League.

“So we would put it towards their head if they were working towards putting their shirt on, we would put it towards their mouth if they were working to feed themselves,” Robert Ferguson, an occupational therapy clinical specialist at the University of Michigan said.

For many patients, the rehab doesn’t feel like hard work because they are so immersed in the game. And for some like Michael, it’s about more than physical improvements. It’s about being able to play games for fun as well. He’s one of 46 million disabled gamers.

“It was let me engage into a community, let me be a part of something that is not just me working on my weights, but like me being able to play with my friends,” Michael finalized.

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