Imagine that you can no longer grasp a can of soda without your wrist feeling like it wants to explode. That, my friend, is what that innocent-looking game console can do to you. I’m not speaking about this as a medical expert, or as a concerned parent hoping to sway kids from playing video games, but as a witness to the pain and suffering that extreme gaming can cause to the human body.
My gaming addiction actually started when I was about 13 – caused by the original Ultima series produced by Origin Systems. After seeking out magic runes and battling cyclops well into the night, I had officially caught the gaming bug. It was an affliction that stuck with me through the rest of high school, into college, and even into my early marriage and parenting years. I eased off of gaming a little in college, but it wasn’t until after our children had entered their toddler years and there was a little more free time, that I re-entered the gaming action in full-force once again. That time, it was Medal of Honor Online.
The combination of staying up all night playing Medal of Honor, working at a desk all day as an automation engineer, and then writing online in the evenings eventually took its toll. I started feeling a strange tingling in the wrist, combined with a numb feeling up the side of my thumb. This eventually evolved into a terrible pain whenever I bent my wrist or my thumb at a certain angle or squeezed my hand. I was completely at a loss as to what was causing it, until one night while gaming, I realized that I was resting my wrist flat on the desk, with my hand tilted at an odd upward angle on top of the mouse. It was then that it dawned on me – I officially had Carpel Tunnel Syndrome.
A Gaming Injury You Don’t Want – Carpal Tunnel
A visit to the Doctor confirmed my fear. I had aggravated the major nerve that passes over the carpal bones in my wrist. The Doctor at least gave me some good news – it wasn’t a syndrome unless the condition returned again after recovery, but the bad news was that recovery would require immobilizing my thumb for several weeks, potentially months. My gaming days were over.
When you make a living on the computer, the prospect of having your mouse-hand immobilized and rendered incapable of using a mouse is a scary thing. Let’s just say I learned to use the mouse with my left hand for a while.
Eye Strain – It Can Happen to You
I’m convinced that one side-effect of staring at a screen for nearly 9-15 hours a day since I was 9 years old is that I ended up needing glasses at the age of 35. It actually might have started earlier, as I had been having the symptoms of it for years – sore and burning eyes, headache, sensitivity to light and even a sore neck. I dealt with the symptoms until the headaches just got too bad.
My eyes were nearly 20-20, however using his exotic-looking machine, the doctor determined that one eye was just a smidgen off. He said he wouldn’t even recommend glasses for most people with such a small prescription, but since my screen-use is in excess of a normal person, he prescribed me a pair of “computer” glasses.
Posture – Sit Up!
There are two really common gaming positions for avid gamers. There’s the “couch slouch”, where the gamer is just chilling with feet up on the coffee table and slouched back into the couch. Then, there’s the “full-on” position – usually in the heat of an FPS battle – that involves leaning forward, elbows on knees, head tilted forward, and all attention and focused on the screen.
You wouldn’t think that sports injuries would make up one of the more common gaming injuries, but thanks to the advent of the Wii, gamers now have to deal with many of the same injuries that athletes do, and sometimes even more. Those innocent-looking Wii Nunchucks turned out to be not so innocent after all.
Pulled Muscles and Sprains
Athletes that run marathons even know that not stretching before any rigorous physical activity will lead to pulled muscles, or even worse, injuries like a sprained ankle. Stretching loosens up the muscles and prepares your body for the stress that is to come – even for just a 30 minute run. But once the Wii and other motion-sensor gaming consoles came out, you’ve got a whole population of former couch potatoes suddenly jumping up and trying to do 1-2 hours of activities like tennis, boxing and bowling without giving a second thought to stretching first. Afterwards, there’s all sorts of confusion about all the terrible muscle pains and soreness.