OSU Researcher: Wii Aids Concussion Treatment

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OSU Researcher Tamerah Hunt, examines athlete Anthony Flowers on the Wii Yoga program.(Photo: The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center)
OSU Researcher Tamerah Hunt, examines athlete Anthony Flowers on the Wii Yoga program.(Photo: The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center)

An Ohio State University researcher is studying how a popular video game – the Wii Fit system – can help test concussions and prevent long term brain injuries which are a growing concern for athletes, coaches and doctors.

The Yoga exercise program on the Wii instructs users how to complete different poses. You have to stand on one leg,  stretch out your arms and hold that pose for several seconds. It’s good exercise, and it could help doctors spot the lingering effects of a concussion.

OSU’s Sports Medicine Concussion Program director of research Tamerah Hunt says balance is an important part in analyzing recovery from a head injury.

“We took those stances that are commonly used, the single leg, the double leg, the tandem stance and we looked at what the Wii yoga poses look like and they look very similar and so, we’ve been using those on the Wii fit,” says Hunt.

Hunt and her counterparts at the University of Maryland are doing baseline Wii testing for concussion management in college athletes and will soon do the same tests for high school athletes.

Hunt says because the Wii is inexpensive and portable it could be a valuable tool for athletic trainers.

“Something is better than nothing and right now a lot of clinicians aren’t using balance equipment, because it’s limited in what we have,” says Hunt.

Hunt says studies show between 5 percent and 15 percent of athletes will sustain a concussion each year, and more than half will go unreported.

New Albany High School athlete Anthony Flowers knows what a concussion feels like.

“During Freshman year of fall soccer I went sliding out to make a play and ended up getting kicked in the head, and basically we went to the hospital and after that I don’t remember too much,” Flowers explains.

Flowers suffered from headaches for a couple weeks and slowly returned to the field. He recently took part in a demonstration of the Wii Yoga balance testing.

“It draws the competitive side of wanting to get a higher score as possible with the balance board,” explains Flowers.

While Flowers still needed other tests, his high score in Wii yoga seemed to indicate he had recovered.

New Albany High School head athletic trainer Tim Mathews says using the Wii can be a more objective tool to determine whether an athlete still suffers from a concussion.

“When I test someone for their balance, I have to give my opinion of do I think they’ve lost their balance, or do they go out of position. With something like the Wii, it’s kind of a standardized measure, it takes the human element out of it,” Mathews says.

However, the Wii has its limits. OSU researcher Tamerah Hunt cautions the game is limited in measuring other movements.

“It doesn’t tell you how they’re swaying forward and backward really heavily, are they swaying from right to left, it just gives you this one number. And we always have to remind everybody that the Wii wasn’t intended for medical use,” explains Hunt.

Hunt wants to test OSU athletes on the Wii. She hopes it’s just another  tool to keep athletes safe from serious brain injuries.

“We’re starting to see some long-term effects of concussion and we’re also starting to see the deaths of young high school athletes following concussion. And so we always joke, but you only have one brain.”

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