We are doing a multi-part series on orthopedic problems for gamers, focusing on different regions of the body. Part II will focus on lower back & hip issues, Part III will focus on internal shoulder rotation. Part IV will focus on neck impingement.
For gamers and athletes alike, whatever your passion or your profession, it’s nearly a sure bet you are on your electronic devices almost more than you’re not. Whether conducting battles on the business front or crushing enemies in lane, your body suffers from repeat muscle stress and prolonged bouts of sitting.
We get it, and we want to make you aware of a couple of potential painful problems associated with all that screen time so you can do something about them if you already have them or prevent them if you don’t.
We’ve already talked about problems caused by overexposure to the short, high intensity blue light waves emanating from your screen, causing such serious conditions as damage to your retina and disruption of your sleep. Now we want to make sure you know about another set of problems that can be caused from using electronic devices. This time, it’s not about what happens to your eyes when you look at the screen, but what is happening to the joints and tendons of your hands and also your wrists, as a result of endless hours of pounding on your keyboard or game controller.
All of these orthopedic problems that gamers and other heavy users of computers and electronic devices face have one thing in common. They are all caused by use of your keyboard or game controller over long hours and which is repeated day after day after day. That’s why all of these injuries are known as repetitive motion injuries.
Let’s take a closer look at two of these problems and then look at ways you can combat them.
One of the most common problems that gamers face is related to heavy, forceful use of a game controller or computer mouse. This condition is known as ‘gamer’s thumb’ or more formally as De Quervain’s tendinosis and is a painful condition of the tendons that connect your thumb to your wrist.
These tendons, as well as the tendon sheaths that surround them, become swollen, inflamed and painful. This makes the area along the thumb side of your wrist tender and you may have trouble moving your wrist or making a fist or grasping an object. You may also have pain and swelling at the base of your thumb and you may notice a clicking sound or a ‘sticking’ or locking sensation when you move your thumb. What’s worse, if left untreated, the pain may spread into your forearm as well. There have even been cases so severe that the tendon ruptured. Not good!
Treatment involves resting the thumb, applying ice to the area and taking over the counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Motrin IB brand and others) or naprosyn (Aleve brand and others.) If these measures don’t work, then your doctor may prescribe a splint or brace and physical or occupational therapy. If these fail, then surgery may be called for to open the tendon sheath to relieve the pressure. Surgery sucks. Try to avoid that.
It’s the constant, repeated action that gets you into trouble in the first place. Prevention is the key here and there is a lot you can do stop gamer’s thumb from happening.
Most orthopedic experts recommend a three to five minute break for every one to two hours of gaming. During your breaks, stretch, use, and massage your thumbs and fingers like this:
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) can be developed by both gamers as well as keyboard and mouse users, and is characterized by numbness, weakness and tingling of the hand and fingers as well as pain in the affected wrist. This condition is caused by swelling and inflammation in a narrow space in your wrist known as the carpal tunnel. With repetitive motion injury this already narrow space becomes even more compromised and squeezes your median nerve, which supplies parts of your hand and some of your fingers with feeling, as it passes through the tunnel.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is one of those injuries that is progressive, with mild symptoms at first that get worse over time. Early on, you will likely experience pain in your wrist and in your palm, especially at night, and you’ll get tingling and numbness in your ring, index and middle fingers on the palm side of your hand. These symptoms can also go up into your forearm or even all the way into your shoulder.
Later on, you will probably get weakness in your hand and even have trouble holding onto things. Sometimes it gets so bad that you won’t be able to feel hot or cold with the affected hand and your hand may constantly feel swollen, even though it’s really not.
If you pay attention to your symptoms and get treatment early in the course of this, carpal tunnel syndrome is reversible. But if you wait too long, the nerve damage can become permanent.
If you have early symptoms, your doctor may order a splint as well as NSAIDs like ibuprofen or naprosyn to try to get the swelling and inflammation under control. And it goes without saying, you’ve got to limit the gaming or keyboard use that caused the problem in the first place for a bit. These recovery periods are good times to watch streamers, study your game, and analyze how you can make better decisions while gaming.
Of course, prevention of the condition entirely would be best and this is accomplished by correctly adjusting your work area. You have to pay attention to such things as getting the optimal angle for your keyboard, your desk height and your seating. Proper posture is critical and exercises which can strengthen your fingers, hands, wrists, arms, shoulders and neck can be extremely useful at preventing problems.
Warm up before you begin your work or your gaming by stretching the muscles of your fingers, hands and wrists. Try to vary your tasks during the day, so you are not performing the same motion over and over. Take frequent short breaks is a must as well.
Remember that taking care of yourself means you’ll be able to continue to enjoy what you love, whether that’s playing your favorite games or writing up that latest work proposal. Paying attention to your general health with good habits like a nutritious diet, plenty of sleep, consistent exercise and getting outside can go a long way to prevent problems as well.
We offer two products that help with gamer’s thumb and carpal tunnel syndrome: Our daily muscle & joint recovery shake Strength Potion and our muscle rub Bear Balm.
Strength Potion includes a powerful combination of proteins (whey/collagen/hemp), branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), glucosamine, chondroitin, msm, fungi, vitamins, and and herbs so that you don't have to guess at what to take for maximum recovery, strength, mobility, and health.
Bear Balm includes several transdermal elements for increasing blood flow to tense and swollen muscle groups including arnica, l-arginine, menthol, vitamin E, salt, ginger, camphor, and more.
Look for our next post, Part II about lower back and hip issues.