Physiotherapy finally gets X-citing!


One of the biggest challenges for anyone with cerebral palsy, especially children, is finding the discipline to regularly keep on top of one’s physiotherapy. With so many other infinitely more interesting distractions around, exercising can easily find itself slipping down the list of priorities. And yet, it is a crucial part of keeping the symptoms of cerebral palsy at bay. But fear not, one research institute in Canada may have just succeeded in making physio fun…!

There’s no getting around it. Physiotherapy is dull! No offence to physios – you all do a splendid job! – but when faced with the prospect of an hour of agonising tendon-stretching, balancing or gruelling muscle strengthening, I’m the first to admit, I can always thing of something far more pressing and far less uncomfortable to do with my time.

A new range of games for the Xbox Kinect have been designed specifically for children with cerebral palsy

Not surprisingly therefore, enticing kids to commit to a strict regime of physio is no easy task. Most children would much prefer to play. But what if you could combine both? What if you could devise an exciting game that craftily helped to alleviate the spasticity in a child’s limbs whilst keeping them entertained?

When I was a youngster, the extent of my amusement in a physio clinic was picking up toy cars from the floor or throwing multi-coloured bean bags into a bright red box. The kids of today, however, have something a little more exciting to look forward to.

Using the modern gaming technology of Microsoft’s Xbox One Kinect, researchers at the Bloorview Institute in Canada are working on a series of interactive games designed to assist children with cerebral palsy in developing motor function. As any neurological physiotherapist who works with patients who have the condition will agree, many of the exercises aimed at improving muscle control and co-ordination, involve a great deal of repetition. Such treatment is no doubt tedious for any child.

The Bloorview Research Institute is Canada’s largest rehabilitation hospital for children

However, the new games developed for the Xbox console introduce a point scoring system, which helps children to engage with the exercise as well as measuring their progress. One game in particular sends virtual shapes flying towards the player, who must then fit their body into those shapes.

All the games have been formulated with cerebral palsy in mind. Therefore they offer a far greater degree of control over the parameters of the game than would usually be the case. As one of the researchers commented, it is important to be able to alter the speed settings of each game in a way that would not be possible in a commercial version. Furthermore, greater control is also needed over what movements the game is trying to encourage the child to improve.

Whilst the Xbox is by no means a complete alternative to traditional methods of physiotherapy, it does offer a useful supplement when integrated into a child’s usual exercise routine. If it also manages to keep them amused, then that’s a real bonus!

Though not commercially available just yet, these games are already in use in clinics at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. However, with any luck they will be hitting the shops sooner rather than later. Who knows, I might well buy one myself. It would certainly be more productive than spending an afternoon playing ‘Call of Duty’!


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