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How to Prevent Gaming Injuries

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Posted by Eric J. Kropf, MD

Call it what you will: gaming, eSports or competitive gaming has become a popular pastime, and in some cases a virtual career. With the recent outbreak of coronavirus and social distancing (also called physical distancing), people of all ages are now joining in from consoles, laptops, tablets and even virtual reality (VR).

Unlike traditional sports, gaming allows players to participate in the comfort of their home. Depending on the platform, participants may play with handheld controllers, keyboard and mouse, touchscreen, or wear a headset and goggles. While gaming is relatively safe, injuries can occur. Here, I will share some of the more common ones and how to prevent them from occurring.

What Types of Injuries Can Occur from Frequent Gaming?

It really depends on the platform.

Laptop, tablet and PC gamers generally have the same type of injuries as people who work at a computer all day. They’re sitting close to the screen for long periods, so eyestrain can become a problem. As they sit, their shoulders tend to hunch over, and repetitive movements can affect their wrists and hands.

Typical complaints I hear include:

  • Eye strain, or tired eyes
  • Ear issues, from loud headsets or headphones
  • Inflammation and swelling of the tendons, the tissues that connect muscle to bone
  • Pain and numbness from nerve compression in the area of the forearm and elbow
  • Neck and shoulder strain, from extended periods of poor posture

Console gamers who play on platforms like Xbox or PlayStation use handheld controls, sometimes with headsets to connect with other players. Because they often sit hunched on the couch and they’re using those small, repetitive movements with the controllers, we see the same type of injuries as players on computers.

Virtual reality is a unique challenge, as players use headsets and actually move their bodies around to play. Because their eyes are focused on the game and not their surroundings, I see injuries from falls or tripping. I also see hand and arm injuries from hitting objects while playing. Imagine a player swinging a virtual sword, for example.

How Can Injuries Be Treated, Especially During Social Distancing?

While you’re participating in gaming, it’s also important to maintain your health. Put your own guidelines in place to prevent gaming injuries from occurring. Here are some tips:

1. Be mindful of your posture.

Many injuries such as back and neck strain are caused by prolonged sitting and poor posture. Use mindfulness techniques to remind yourself to sit up straight, with both feet firmly on the floor.

Mindfulness involves self-awareness and paying attention with purpose. Take notice of your posture when you sit down, for example. Are your feet firmly on the floor? Is your back comfortably straight? If not, adjust. Take stock of your posture every few hours.

2. Consider your seat.

Gaming chairs are often designed with good posture in mind. If you have one, try to use it as much as possible while playing. If you don’t, try using props such as pillows to support your posture while playing.

3. Stretch often.

Those who’ve worked in an office already know the basics. Roll your shoulders, move your neck up and down gently, stand up and sit down, and extend your arms out on either side of your body. Give your joints and muscles a healthy, restful stretch every hour.

4. Take breaks.

It may be difficult to pull yourself away if you and your gaming partners are in game play, but try to take a break every few hours. This means standing up, pulling off your equipment and moving out of your environment. You can take this opportunity to walk in the fresh air, drink some water or do some stretches. Even a small 5-minute break helps.

5. Manage pain and stiffness.

First of all, if you already have pain and stiffness, try not to self-diagnose. The best thing you can do is put down the controller at this point and give yourself a day or two to recover.

Many of the injuries that happen during gaming are due to repetitive movements and poor posture, so your pain and stiffness may actually subside during this “down” time. If not, earmark your calendar to schedule an appointment with an orthopaedic doctor for evaluation.

Is Gaming a Healthy Outlet During Social Distancing?

While social distancing guidelines are in place, gaming can be a temporary outlet to help players of all ages overcome the stress and anxiety of these uncertain times — and to interact socially with friends and other gamers.

My advice is to be self-aware and practice moderation. Sitting for long periods of time can have an impact on your overall health, so be sure to balance your gaming activities with a dose of daily exercise, social interaction with your friends and family, if possible, and healthy food choices.

Eric J. Kropf, MD

Eric J. Kropf, MD, is Director of Sports Medicine and an orthopaedic surgeon at Temple University Hospital, and an Assistant Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Temple University School of Medicine. His major clinical and research interests include evaluation and treatment of sports related injuries in all age groups, specifically arthroscopic and minimally invasive surgery of the shoulder, elbow, knee, ankle, and proximal hamstring repairs. In addition to having several publications to his credit, Dr. Kropf has given many presentations, both nationally and internationally, and is a member of the Arthroscopy Association of North America, and the International Society of Arthroscopy Knee Surgery and Orthopaedic Sports. 

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