Games can be heart-pounding, but if you’re feeling the burn without leaving your chair, something’s wrong with the way you play. While most people think that they’re not at risk for orthopedic injuries in the comfort of their own homes, you can develop a painful condition without leaving your desk—and if you never leave your desk, you’re at greater risk. Here are three of the most common gaming injuries, with some tips for keeping yourself pain free.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
This painful nerve condition can cause numbness, tingling, and shooting pains in the fingers and up the arms. The carpal tunnel is a nerve passageway on the underside of the forearm, running through the wrist; compressing it too severely or too frequently can irritate the nerve within it. While genetics can play a role in who gets carpal tunnel syndrome, computer gamers who sit with their forearms mashed against the edge of a desk or flexed uncomfortably on a keyboard are particularly prone to developing discomfort and pain.
Fortunately, there are many tools available for preventing and treating carpal tunnel, including:
1) Adjusting the height of the desk or computer chair so that the wrists are not held in a flexed position, but rest comfortably on the keyboard and mouse
2) Buying ergonomically sound accessories, such as split keyboards and wrist rests
3) Wearing a brace to keep the wrist straight and prevent it from curling downward into a position that could compress the carpal tunnel
4) Taking regular breaks to stretch both wrists
5) In severe cases, surgery can relieve the pressure on the nerve
Repetitive Stress Injuries
With the advent of motion-sensitive game consoles, doctors have been seeing a rise in cases of repetitive stress injuries. These injuries can happen in any joint, and gamers are most likely to injure the joints that get the most use: thumbs, hands, and wrists are common areas of concern, although game systems that allow more expansive gestures (like the Wii, Wii U, and Xbox Kinect) can also strain elbows and shoulders. There’s even a condition called Nintendo Thumb.
To prevent these injuries, make sure that you:
1) Take frequent breaks, and stop for the day if you feel any pain
2) Make controlled gestures so that you don’t overextend your joints
Just sitting still for too long can be hard on your back, especially if it’s in the wrong position. Poor posture can strain muscles, and long-term neglect of your spinal health can compress the delicate discs between your vertebrae or pinch the nerves that run from your spine to your extremities.
If you’re about to settle in for a marathon gaming session, make sure you’re protecting your back by:
1) Take regular breaks to stand up and stretch
2) Adjust the height of your chair, desk, and monitor so that you’re sitting in a position that doesn’t force you to hunch over to see your screen
3) Invest in an ergonomically sound space to play. Different bodies require different arrangements, but some options are: exercise ball chairs, kneeling chairs, sit/stand desks, chairs with lumbar support, stools, and reclining chairs.
If you’re feeling pain that doesn’t go away immediately, or gets more frequent over time, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. While gaming gets a bad rap for this sort of injury, with every console release followed by a flurry of articles about the hot new way to get injured, any activity that forces you to stay for a long time in an unnatural position or puts repeated strain or pressure on delicate body parts can cause injuries. So game comfortably, and stay safe!