The amount of overuse injuries that can result from all that play time is out of control.
According to a recent Pew Research study, over 43 percent of American adults often or sometimes play video games using a computer, cell phone or game console. In the same study, 75 percent of teenage girls and a whopping 84 percent of teenage boys reported that they regularly play video games, with many identifying themselves as “gamers.”
Though there has long been a debate about the impact of video gaming on a user’s mental health, we are now beginning to tune in to the effect those small, repetitive movements have on the body.
“There has been a clear uptick in video gaming-related injuries,” says Dr. Pedro K. Beredjiklian, who is in charge of hand surgery at the Rothman Orthopaedics at Jefferson Health. “It’s well documented that with the increase in gaming and use of smartphones and tablets, we’re seeing an epidemic of overuse injuries.”
The most common injuries seen in video gamers are overuse injuries of the hands, including carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and synovitis. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a narrowing of the passageway–known as the carpal tunnel–where nerves travel from your arm and into your hand. This can cause pain, weakness and reduced range of motion in the hands and wrists.
It’s well documented that with the increase in gaming and use of smartphones and tablets, we’re seeing an epidemic of overuse injuries.
—Dr. Pedro Beredjiklian
Tendonitis, or an inflammation of the tissue that connects the bone to the muscle, also occurs with overuse. Symptoms include a dull ache, tenderness and swelling. Synovitis, similar to tendonitis, occurs when the membrane protecting the joints becomes inflamed with overuse. These can occur in the joints on the hands and fingers, as well as the arms, legs and feet.
With video gamers, “it’s usually the thumb joints that are most affected,” says Dr. Beredjiklian. “The thumb is overused on both our mobile devices for texting and swiping, and on game console controllers.”
In many cases, the devil is in the design.
“A lot of these problems are caused by non-ergonomic designs in the devices,” notes Dr. Beredjiklian. “The keyboards become smaller and smaller. As technology gets smaller, it becomes harder for the hand, causing inflammation.”
Less common but severe injuries also result from the sedentary aspect of video gaming. In one case, a healthy and physically active man was rushed into a Jefferson Hospital emergency room with shortness of breath and an elevated heart rate after a full day of gaming with his children.
Over the eight hours he sat cross-legged with the kids, blood clots formed in this patient’s lower legs, causing a potentially life-threatening deep vein thrombosis (DVT). The patient was treated with multiple emergency blood thinners to eliminate the clots.
Dr. Beredjiklian has watched as the demographics have shifted in his patients. At one time, most of the patients requiring treatment for overuse injuries were middle-aged workers and laborers, as the injuries were most commonly associated with the type of work someone does.
Today, he is seeing patients at a younger and younger age. But that doesn’t have to be the case. At the first sign of symptoms, Dr. Beredjiklian recommends anti-inflammatory medications and correcting posture.
To prevent less common heart and blood issues, it’s important to take breaks and walk around.
“The best thing you can do is to stop the activity that’s causing the problem,” says Dr. Beredjiklian. “If you don’t, your injury is not going to get better.”