LANDSTUHL, Germany — Army Spc. Shawn Roberts must play video games.
It’s doctor’s orders.
Every week he goes to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and plays games on the Nintendo Wii to help him recover from injuries sustained in a vehicle accident in Kuwait last April.
The Army hospital is experimenting using the popular video game console as a physical therapy tool for wounded servicemembers. Playing the game makes the often painful and boring therapy session fun, Roberts says.
The alternative is squeezing a ball of putty.
“I wasn’t expecting much out of it,” said Roberts after using the game. “You know, it’s a video game. How much could it really do? But you don’t notice it while you’re doing it because your mind’s on the game. But then when you’re done? I was sore.”
Military occupational therapists came up with the idea of using the video game before the system debuted on store shelves last year. Unlike other home video game systems, Wii (pronounced “we”) uses motion-sensing controllers.
The fact that players have to move the controller in different directions to play the game is why therapists saw some benefit of introducing it to patients. The department didn’t have the money to buy the console, but a Navy hospital corpsman deployed to the hospital loaned them his game because he was attending school and he figured it would distract him from his studies.
Roberts, who is assigned to the 581st Signal Company in Kuwait, volunteered to use the game as part of his therapy routine. He broke his wrist and elbow and partially tore his rotator cuff when the vehicle he was in rolled over. He couldn’t move his wrist for more than a month because of the implanted screws.
He started using the game about a month ago. He plays games tailored to his therapy. For example, he has played the tennis game because it involves using his wrist and elbow.
“I do all the same exercises,” Roberts said. “But with the Wii, your mind’s off of it, and you do it a lot more. It’s more fast-paced and that kind of thing.”
Staff Sgt. Bryan Vallerie, an occupational therapy technician, said the game wouldn’t replace anything in the department’s physical therapy repertoire but could enhance treatment for some patients.
“It’s a healthy, fun alternative to doing these things,” Vallerie said.
Therapists see the game benefiting patients with nearly any kind of injury, including patients with traumatic brain injuries. The department plans to analyze the results of using the game and would like to purchase its own game console, if possible.
Physical therapy can take months of monotonous work. Using the video game is more interesting than putting together puzzles or gripping a rubber ball.
Staff Sgt. Jason Lord, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the Occupational Therapy department, said the overwhelming majority of their patients — active-duty soldiers — are young and play video games. It only makes sense to incorporate them into physical therapy, he said.