The Link Between Video Game Addiction and Chronic Pain

Repetitive strain injuries and chronic pain have always been very intimately linked. So, it is no surprise that video game addiction has become one of the major causes of chronic pain with its high incidence of strain injuries. In this article, we are going to outline gaming injuries that lead to chronic pain.

Who is at risk?

With gaming on the rise, esports is becoming more and more popular. Video games are being treated with the same practice and dedication that professional athletes have towards their sport. With this in mind, it is not uncommon that we see chronic career-ending injuries just like any other sport. However, these injuries are not exclusive to those competing at a professional level but to anyone who plays video games for long hours.

Video games can be played in a multitude of ways. From keyboard and mouse players on PC to numerous controller designs and mobile phones. Hence the risk of injury becomes far more diverse depending on your gaming method of choice. PC gaming has proven to uphold the most risk of injury due to the nature of using a keyboard and mouse and the importance of ergonomics when doing so. However, both console and mobile games require repetitive motions and come with their own host of chronic injuries.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)

This is a specific form of tendonitis that is caused by repetitive strain on the arm. Those who suffer from the injury primarily feel pain, numbness or a tingling sensation in the hand, wrist or forearm. The injury is caused by long hours of using the arm in a flexed or extended position which can lead to inflammation or swelling of the carpal ligament. CTS is most common in PC gamers who use a mouse and keyboard for long periods of time with poor posture. Video game addiction and long hours of computer use by definition go hand in hand so it is important to understand the physical risks involved

As you may know, gaming involves dexterous movements of the wrist, forearms and fingers. Players can be required to click or hold a mouse in one position for upwards of 30minutes at a time depending on the game they are playing. MOBAS and first-person shooters being some of the major culprits of this. CTS is a serious chronic injury that can worsen over time if not treated correctly. Long term effects involve severely weakened grip, numbness, tingling or burning sensations in the thumb and index finger.

Treatments for chronic pain involve natural pain relief programs that use CBT to disassociate the sensation of pain you feel to a specific area or injury. There is also physical therapy or as a last resort surgical intervention. As for excessive gaming, sites like The Mindful Gamer, a video game addiction therapy site, have exploded in popularity as more people move towards CBT to break the addictive gaming behaviours..

Gamers Thumb

The colloquial name gamers thumb also known as Tenosynovitis is caused by the overuse of the thumb when using a controller or joystick. The injury manifests itself as swelling and inflammation of the tendons in the thumb due to repetitive motions over a prolonged period of time.

Symptoms of gamers thumb consist of pain in the wrist and thumb during or after gaming or pain specifically when rotating the thumb downwards away from the forearms. Individuals suffering from video game addiction may have experienced these sensations after long periods of gaming but are unsure of how to resolve the issue.

The best treatments to ease the process of healing is initially to tackle the broader issue of the person’s addiction to video games. With the affected individual still gaming for long hours, it can exacerbate the negative impacts of this injury leading to chronic pain or permanent damage. If we treat symptomatically to reduced the tenosynovitis with other therapies without overcoming the underlying issue of video game addiction it could simply just be a coverup job.

However, that being said, damage to the tendons can be corrected and physical therapy is proven to be very effective in treating this injury. Physiotherapists may recommend various stretching and strengthening exercises as well as ice and electronic treatments depending on the severity of the injury.

Tennis Elbow

The name can be quite misleading as you don’t have to be swinging away on the tennis court to develop this injury. Tennis elbow is caused by repetitive wrist and arm movements as well as activities that involve gripping for long periods. Hence gamers are massively at risk for PC, console and mobile.

The prolonged grip on a controller, mouse or other gaming consoles without proper posture and regular breaks will lead to inflammation of the tendons in the elbow. Pain is usually felt in the tip of the elbow or the forearm. The reason this is such a common gaming injury is the gripping and wrist bending motions required in gaming need to be as steady and dexterous as possible in order to line up a shot or have quick, accurate clicks. Hence the shoulder is not used to assist in this movement further increasing the risk of tennis elbow.

Tennis elbow if left untreated can lead to chronic pain diffuse throughout the arm as well as shaky hands and decreased grip strength. It is important that if you are experiencing any of these symptoms that you seek out the correct treatment or consult a specialist. Many will recommend a prolonged break from gaming while you undergo a course of physiotherapy to improve posture to take pressure off of the elbow. You will be taught stretching and strengthening exercises relevant to the nature of your injury to prevent it from recurring.

Gaming Shoulder Pain

The medical condition is called biceps tendonitis and is commonly developed by gamers who predominantly use a mouse and keyboard. The sufferer can feel pain in the shoulder and biceps caused by the contractions when using the mouse.

When using a mouse for long periods the arm is not stretched out and hence neither is the biceps muscle. These constant contractions without proper stretching are what cause biceps tendonitis. Studies carried out on 210 children with shoulder pain aged 9-12, showed that 30 percent played 3 hours of video games or more every day. Injuries such as shoulder pain should be taken seriously. Large muscles such as the shoulders are prone to nerve impingements when too much pressure is applied from surrounding tissues. Physicians may recommend ice, rest and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to help the healing process of these injuries.

Neck and Back Pain

Those who suffer from video game addiction are at greater risk of developing neck and back pain. This is largely associated with poor posture which is caused by hours of playing on a gaming setup with bad ergonomics

Sitting in an expensive gaming chair is counterproductive if you are slouched over the keyboard for hours on end. So it is important that we are aware of our posture if we are to use these devices. Poor posture is one of the main general health risks and symptoms of video game addiction. It has been shown to cause more than neck and back pain:

  • Decreased circulation – Being in a seated position with bad posture makes it harder for the heart to pump blood to the lower extremities, causing limbs and muscles in that area to become sore
  • Misaligned Spine
  • Digestive Problems – Sitting with bad posture leads to compression of our abdomen and hence the digestive organs inside. Leading to indigestions and impaired metabolism. 

Orthopaedic specialists looked at a group of 45 children within an age range of 5-15. They found that as the gaming session wore on their posture became worse and worse with constant head leaning and slouching. Video game addicts are at exceptional health risk due to the excessive hours of playing they take part in. To avoid bad posture the correct ergonomic setup should consist of:

  • A chair that allows feet to be planted firmly on the ground
  • A monitor with the top border being at eye level therefore no looking up or leaning is required to see anything on screen
  • Arms at desk level with an approximately 90-degree bend at the elbows
  • Proper lumbar support and head and neck support should also be adjusted on the chair

Treatment plans for both chronic pain and video game addiction use CBT practices to help overcome them. It is no coincidence video games have a tendency to cause us to stiffen and tense in situations that require focus. It is this immobilized state that we are placed in that causes injury. Gamers may not notice the stress that their body is undergoing until the entire gaming session is over. However, by this point, it is too late and many find themselves emerging from their binge with aches and pains. If you or anyone you know are suffering from video game addiction please don’t hesitate. Get them the help they deserve.

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