Eighteen-year-old Matt Schabel runs the play in his head over and over again. While playing varsity football for Germantown High School last fall, he was simply trying to elude a tackler.
“I had the ball and was running out towards the left sideline,” Schabel said. “I planted to cut back in because there was a defender coming at me. I just hyper extended my left knee and I felt a pop.”
Immediately, Schabel got a sickening feeling because he knew exactly what had just happened. He’d torn his Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) which is critically important for stabilizing the knee. In a game the previous season, exactly the same thing happened to his right knee.
Schabel also knew what he was now up against. Six months of grueling, often tedious and painful knee rehabilitation. But this time around, Matt was pleasantly surprised to learn that his therapy sessions through Community Memorial Hospital would include work with the ultra popular Xbox video game system.
“It’s been a huge success as far as getting kids motivated and getting kids to balance and train with it,” said Jamie Pecha, a licensed athletic trainer at the clinic. “For the most part, ACL rehab is kind of boring. It’s a lot of routines, a lot of repetition. Lunges over and over again. Squats over and over again. To get something like this that’s entertaining and gets them moving a little better breaks up the monotony and it makes them more motivated to come to rehab.”
So far, Pecha has been using the Kinect™ Adventures game for Xbox on 10 patients who’ve suffered ACL tears. The game features true-to-life motion, simulating how the knee is reacting but without the hazards of making the same movements on an athletic field. Pecha plans to expand use of the video game in rehab to include patients with all types of knee injuries.
“It’s just like their on-field experience,” Pecha said. “They’re jumping and landing on a single leg, the same way they do on the field or on a court. It’s a good opportunity for us to watch how their knee behaves without them actually thinking about it.
“If we tell an athlete to land, they will land exactly how we trained them to land because they are thinking about it. But if they’re watching the video game, they’re not thinking about it. Their knee will go where it normally goes so I can look at that and see what the mechanics of the knee are.”
Schabel said training with the XBox has made the long road to full recovery fun, rather than tedious. Although the video game keeps rehab entertaining, Schabel said Pecha finds ways to push him to work harder.
“It’s about six months of coming in for rehab regularly and it’s a lot of hard work. But with the Xbox, it’s the fun time of rehab,” Schabel said. “I think this is harder than any other (rehab) thing I do. Jamie finds ways for us to make it really hard. He gives us the weight vest, the plank to stand on so he makes it challenging for us.”
Brittany Ward, 17, plays soccer at Germantown High School and she, too, blew out an ACL about six months ago.
“Xbox makes it so much more fun,” Ward said. “You’re way more motivated to do all of the rehab. The rest of the rehab, it’s like, ‘Oh, I have to do this just to get better’ but this is more fun and it’s good for you. It’s like any normal game. It’s fun and you don’t have rehab on your mind. But it’s still rehab so it’s really cool.”
Xbox may be extremely popular with the younger set but Pecha is already using it in different age groups.
“Today, I had a 55-year-old guy on it and he loved it,” Pecha chuckled. “His wife laughed at him but he thought it was great. Rehab can be very tedious and painful. This is just a great stress reliever.”
Using the Xbox won’t shorten the overall time it takes to rehab from a torn ACL. But Pecha says he knows first-hand that the video game is a great way to motivate knee patients to finish their rehab.
“I tried it and it was hard,” Pecha explained. “My legs were tired, my core was tired. Since core and leg work are the cornerstones of ACL rehab, it seemed to make a lot of sense to use the Xbox. It really beats up the knee and makes it work hard. These kids are smiling but they’re sweating.”