The life of a gamer isn’t all about fun and games. There’s strategy to consider, skills to master, clues to remember, and competitors (or a clock) to beat. But gaming comes with its rewards. There is the obvious thrill of solving that puzzle, making it to the next level, and earning the respect of your teammates. But for point and shoot games at least, there may also be benefits for your visual awareness. What’s more, role playing games (RPGs) in particular may increase your creativity! Which is a necessary skill when it comes to impressing employers on the hunt for innovators.
But gaming, just like any other repetitive activity, puts you at high risk for injury. Injury from carpal tunnel syndrome, lower back pain, to a pulled neck. Let’s take a deeper look at just what injuries are possible. And most importantly, let’s explore how we can prevent these.
The Problem: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a big problem for many gamers as are elbow tendonitis and repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) to the fingers and wrists. Symptoms can range from mild cramping to tingling nerves. Carpal tunnel syndrome, after all, occurs when your wrists carpal tunnel narrows and pinches on your nerves. And finally ends in debilitating pain. Whether you rely on a joystick, a keyboard and mouse, motion controllers, touch screens, or standard control pads. Any repetitive motion will put you at risk, especially if that motion requires a fair amount of precision and control.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: The Fix
Bad cases of carpal tunnel syndrome will eventually require surgery. This is an outpatient procedure and one from which most patients will make a full recovery. But surgery is surgery. It can be costly and painful, and will require taking time off from work. A much better strategy is to prevent RSIs like carpal tunnel from developing in the first place. If you’re a PC gamer, a split keyboard can really help! Because you can adjust it until your wrists can adopt the most neutral position. When your wrists are in the right position, the effects should radiate through your arms, so this should also help prevent elbow tendonitis.
Still, if you can only buy one new device for your PC gaming, it’s best to begin with an ergonomic mouse, since so much of the action happens via clicking. An ergonomic mouse will provide your wrist with the support it needs, providing ample hours for respite during down times and thus preventing strain and less than ideal muscle overcompensation.
You would also do well to add targeted pre- and post-gaming stretching to your routine. This will challenge your muscles to move in new ways, and will also get blood flowing to the targeted region. We highly recommended watching the video below for a demonstration of a number of highly effective stretches to give a whirl.
The Problem: Back, Shoulder and Neck Pain
Back, shoulder and neck pain are often common in gamers, particularly if you haven’t got the best posture (who can forget this iconic and all too true image from South Park’s Dungeons and Dragons episode?). When you don’t sit up straight, some of your muscles must overcompensate, creating strain and setting you up for soreness and injury. Poor posture also extends beyond your gaming session, as your muscles will get used to holding you in this specific way, so the ramifications are extensive.
Back, shoulder, and neck pain: Solution
First and foremost, get off the couch and into an ergonomic chair that provides lumbar support. Alternatively, try standing while you game to not only improve your posture but also to improve your overall health; standing, after all, is a great way to prevent diabetes, heart disease, and weight gain. However, if sitting on a couch is a must, make sure that you put a pillow behind you to support your lower back and guide your muscles into an upright position. Ideally, you will also keep your feet flat on the ground with your knees bent at a 45-degree angle. Consider placing a pillow or a hard surface underneath you to achieve this position.
The Problem: Migraines
While migraines have many different triggers, video games can certainly be one of them. Most likely, this has something to do with the intensity of light coming off of your TV or computer screen, as well as the duration of sessions and the prolonged focusing of your eyes.
Migraines: The Solution
Unfortunately for gaming enthusiasts who suffer from migraines, the only real solution for this one is to shorten your gaming sessions.
The Problem: Trouble Sleeping
For similar reasons, many gamers experience trouble sleeping, as the light from their screens throws off their circadian rhythms. This is often paired with other symptoms related to Computer Vision Syndrome, which include dry eyes, headache, and irritability.
Trouble Sleeping: The Solution:
If you’re playing on a PC, we highly recommend installing Flux, an app that adds more soft oranges into your screen’s light display and also adjusts the brightness based on time of day. As annoying at it might be when you’re in the middle of a session, you may also want software that reminds you to take a break every 45 minutes or so, allowing you to move around, stretch, and focus your eyes on other things. You could also try swapping out any harsh bright lights you have at home for more ergonomic lighting. Generally an energy efficient incandescent is the way to go, as it emits softer yellow light that will lull you into sleep.
Despite what the critics say, video game can be a fun, rewarding, and productive hobby. But just like any activity that involves prolonged sitting and repetitive musculoskeletal activity, it comes with its risks. These are all the more pronounced if you are pregnant, have diabetes, are obese or have a thyroid disorder. By taking just a few preventative measures, you’ll ensure the only creature feeling pain is that Hydra you slay in Level 3.