Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a painful condition that affects roughly one million Canadians. It occurs when the median nerve, a nerve that runs from the forearm through a narrow tunnel at the wrist and palm, becomes compressed. When this tunnel becomes irritated and swollen, pressure is placed on the median nerve, which can cause painful symptoms such as numbness and tingling in the thumb, index, and middle fingers and pain and weakness in the hand, wrist, and forearm.
This kind of swelling and irritation is commonly caused by repetitive movements. In the past, most people diagnosed with this condition were middle-aged workers who were experiencing symptoms due to the repetitive nature of their jobs. Over the past few decades, however, there has been an increasing number of children, teenagers, and young adults suffering the symptoms of CTS, and the hours they spend playing video games are to blame.
How does playing video games increase your chances of developing carpal tunnel?
Throughout North American, the number of people who play video games is steadily increasing. As new consoles, more realistic graphics, and more engaging games are created, more people turn to gaming as their primary source of entertainment. In fact, in 2018, over 23 million Canadians said they play video games and since the onset of the pandemic, 58% of adults and 80% of teens say that they have been playing more.
These “gamers” are finding themselves suffering from a wide variety of different conditions caused by their time spent gaming, such as back pain, gamer’s grip, Nintendonitis, tennis elbow, and of course, carpal tunnel syndrome.
The most common causes for developing carpal tunnel from playing video games include:
- Repetitive motion: Repetitive motion is the act of doing the same movement over and over again. When gaming, the same buttons or keys are pressed continuously, and this repetition is unnatural for the muscles and tendons of the body. It increases the risk of injury by putting excess strain on the affected parts of the body, in this case, the wrist, forearm, thumb, and hand, causing swelling and stress on the carpal tunnel and the median nerve.
- Type of gaming controller: Different games are created to be played with different types of controllers. Some use handheld devices, while others are best played using a mouse and keyboard. While both methods can still cause strain and injury, especially with excessive use, they each have distinct advantages in preventing CTS. Handheld controllers are specially designed to fit comfortably into the gamer's hand and put as little stress on the joints as possible. Using a mouse and keyboard allows your hand to stay in a more natural position while gaming. The biggest issue arises when either of these methods is used exclusively for long periods.
- Amount of time spent gaming: The average gamer spends between seven and twelve hours gaming each week; however, those with a gaming addiction may spend upwards of forty hours a week in front of their computers or consoles. The more time spent playing video games, the higher the incidence of injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome, especially if gameplay continues without frequent breaks. When the hand, wrist, and arm are kept in specific positions for prolonged periods, the risk of injury is significantly increased.
- Non-ergonomic gaming set-up: Having an ergonomic gaming set-up means that a video game station is configured correctly to meet the physical needs and comfort of the user. The more ergonomically correct the set-up is, the lower the chances of physical injury and strain. Some critical factors to consider include desk height, screen height, chair height, keyboard position, and mouse and keyboard configuration.
Tips to decrease your risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome from gaming:
With proper care and a bit of knowledge, you can greatly decrease your chances of getting carpal tunnel syndrome from gaming, saving you a lot of pain and suffering and a lengthy recovery.
If you have a love for video games, try out these helpful tips to remain injury-free:
- Spend less time gaming: Since carpal tunnel syndrome occurs from overuse and repetitive strain, try to limit the time you spend in front of the screen.
- Take frequent breaks: When gaming, give your hands a break by taking regular rest periods or playing for shorter periods of time, spread out through the day.
- Create an ergonomic gaming area: The more ergonomic your gaming space, the lower your chance of injury. Ensure that your desk, chair, and monitor are at the proper height and purchase an ergonomically designed mouse and keyboard.
- Wear a wrist support brace: A wrist support brace can be an excellent device to help keep your wrist and hand aligned correctly while gaming. They may take some time to get used to, but the protection against injury they offer will be well worth it.
- Stretch your wrists: Stretching your wrists regularly will help to keep the joints moving freely and will allow the median nerve to move through the carpal tunnel, unhindered. A physiotherapist is an excellent resource for providing the correct exercises to keep you CTS-free.
Carpal tunnel syndrome can be extremely painful condition, that can lead to a need for prescription-based anti-inflammatory medication, extensive physical rehabilitation, and, in severe cases, surgery. If you are a fan of video games and often find yourself in front of the screen, remember that hour of play without frequent breaks or a proper set-up can lead to serious injury.
If you or a loved one are suffering from the effects of carpal tunnel syndrome, Physiomed can help. Our team of qualified physiotherapists can help with relieving your current symptoms and can also help you avoid future injury. Contact us today and let us show you why, at Physiomed, Healthier Starts Here.