Ouch! - Yes, you can get tennis elbow from playing video games

Andrew H
23 January 2012

Above: Image © Lionel Allorge, Wikimedia Commons

July 23, 2009

Despite what your parents may say, playing video games can be useful.  Studies have shown that they can assist with development of advanced hand-eye coordination, problem solving and logical thinking skills, social interaction, and even better manners!  Of course, they’re a lot of fun too!  However, as with all good things, video game playing can be taken to excess and lead to injury.  Additionally,  the advent of new consoles (e.g. Nintendo Wii, DS) and games (e.g. Guitar Hero, Rock Band) exhibiting completely different control schemes, a whole new bevy of potential injuries are waiting to rear their ugly heads.  This article will highlight some of the more common injuries associated with video gaming, and provide tips on how to protect yourself.

Blisters are one of the most common injuries that can occur with extensive controller use, and result from excessive friction between your skin and the controller.  When two contact points come together and repeatedly rub against one another, something has to give,and it's usually your skin.  This results in the appearance of these fluid-filled pockets, usually on fingers or the skin between your thumb and forefinger.  Luckily, blisters can be easily treated with rest and a well-placed bandage to prevent further rubbing.  The best treatment,however, is to catch blisters early – if you start to feel soreness or tenderness at a point in your hands, or can see redness indicating rubbing, try putting a bandage on before it develops into a full-fledged blister.  Or better yet, take a break to allow your skin to recover.

Did you know? Generally, you should avoid popping blisters as this opens the wound and makes it susceptible to infection by bacteria.  The liquid will drain and the blister will flatten on its own time.

    Repetitive-strain injuries (RSIs) occur when the same motion repeated over and over causes inflammation or tenderness in the ligaments and tendons of your joints.  In relation to video game injuries, RSIs have usually involved injuries in the fingers and thumbs, resulting from prolonged use of handheld controllers and button pressing (there is a real-life condition reflecting this problem,referred to as “Video Gamer's thumb”).  However, with the advent of the Nintendo Wii, and games such as Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution,that provide a more “full body” experience, RSIs are no longer limited to the hands.  In fact, doctors around the world reported an increased prevalence of sore shoulders and knees following the release of the Nintendo Wii. They attributed this to overexertion while playing games such as Tennis and Bowling in Wii Sports, which involves mimicking the actions used in “real” tennis and bowling.  This condition has informally been dubbed “Wii-itis” or “Nintendinitis” by the press and video game fans around the world.  

Did you know? The suffix -itis means “inflammation.”  Therefore, tendonitis and arthritis refer to inflammation of the tendons and the joints,respectively.

Even the Nintendo DS handheld console can lead to RSIs if used improperly or to excess.  The biggest danger here lies in the use of the stylus, a plastic pencil-like controller, which if over gripped or used for long periods of time, can lead to strained finger and wrist ligaments or, even worse, carpal tunnel syndrome, which can require extensive physiotherapy or even surgery to correct.  

Did you know? When playing the Wii, injuries can also occur by hitting nearby objects while using the motion controls (Christina Aguilera injured her wrist hitting a table lamp while playing Wii Tennis) – so make sure you have plenty of room around you as well!

Video game-induced RSIs,as in any situation, can best be prevented by avoiding excessive repetition: take a break every 30-45 minutes to rest, and have a quick stretch, grab a snack/drink, or go get some fresh air; this will also help rest your eyes and avoid eye strain,another common video game injury that can occur by focus sing for too long on an electronic screen.  Almost all games, usually in their manual, mention the dangers of prolonged periods of play, and encourage you to mix frequent breaks with your enjoyment of video games.  So the next time you sit down with your favorite video game (and make no mistake, there are some great games on there to be enjoyed), just remember not to overdo it, take a break every once in a while, and you'll reap the benefits of playing, while avoiding the consequences.

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Andrew H

I am a native of Vancouver, with a B.Sc. in pharmacology from the University of British Columbia (UBC), and am currently doing my Ph.D in cardiovascular physiology at UBC. I am an avid photographer, hockey fan (Go Canucks!) and hiker, having hiked the 77 km West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island twice, among other conquests. In addition, I am a frequent player of video games, owning several different systems. My favorite games, while numbering too many to mention, include God of War, Metroid Prime, and Super Mario Galaxy.

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