I have been gaming since I was a child, but I am no longer a kid anymore. I am 31 years old, and have a few gray hairs coming in. My body is starting to get a few aches and mystery pains, and I don’t recuperate from sickness as quick as I used to. This is all part of getting older and I have accepted that. Most of this doesn’t concern me, but I began to wonder how long term gaming would affect my body. I don’t know about you, but I want to be gaming for the entirety of my life and don’t want to be set back by any gaming related injuries. Out of curiosity I decided to research typical gaming injuries. While doing my research I came across a common injury that many gamers suffer from called gamer thumb.
Gamer thumb is a condition that affects the thumb and wrists. It can result in pain and sometimes a popping noise near the outside of the thumb or near the wrist. The symptoms can also include sore thumb joints and pain while flexing the wrist or while trying to grab something. Many gamers can feel pain and soreness while gaming and once developed even after setting the controller down.
Gamer thumb is a repetitive stress injury that is professionally called De Quervain’s syndrome. For gamers the condition occurs after using a two handed controller for extended periods of time. These controllers were designed for thumbs to do the heavy lifting, and the repetitive use of the thumbs can lead to gamer thumb. It’s not uncommon to develop De Quervain’s syndrome from keyboard use, texting on a phone, or other activities with rigorous hand use. I was personally alarmed when I saw that 30-50 year olds have the highest risk of developing the syndrome.
Gamer Thumb develops when an individual is consistently using their thumb. Within the hand there are sheaths that cover tendons that move your thumb. The pain an individual feels is coming form the sheaths being inflamed.It’s a form of tendonitis, tenosynovitis, or in some cases a combination of both. This inflammation can cause pain to go from your thumb, down the wrist, and sometimes towards part of the forearm.
The Scary Part of Gamer Thumb
If gamer thumb is not treated it can get worse. The repetitive use of your thumb can lead to increased irritation and inflammation that can lead to your thumbs tendon’s sheath to degenerate. This could possibly lead to permanent damage which would affect your grip strength and range of motion in thumb. The worst and scariest part of this is that it could lead to consistent pain and end your gaming career!
I want to be gaming on my 100th birthday! I can’t let gamer thumb take my video games from me!
The “Good” News about Gamer Thumb
This is a preventable condition. We have put together a few tips to make sure that you (and I) don’t have to ever suffer from this condition.
Limit Your Gaming
I know, I know! You want to spend every waking minute playing your Playstation. Any free time is dedicated to gaming, but honestly, this isn’t healthy for you. Too much gaming will not only increase your likelihood of developing a repetitive stress injury such as gamer thumb, but it can affect your physical, social, and mental health as well. Video games are amazing, but do yourself a favor and create healthy limits for yourself.
Exercise Your Thumb
Until I did the research on this injury not once did I think about thumb exercises. I exercise often, but never have I exercised my thumb! Below is a video by Dr. Harrison demonstrating thumb exercises that can help prevent and treat gamer thumb. Exercises include moving your thumb up and down, rotating your thumb in a circle, creating a fist, and more.
First off, I am no doctor. If you have consistent pain in your hands, thumb, or arms you should go see a professional.
Treatment of gamer thumb is directed at reducing the inflammation, bringing back movement in your thumb, and preventing it from coming back. Like most treatments, you should start early. Don’t try to push through the pain or cross your fingers hoping that it magically goes away. With treatment it is possible for your hand to be restored to normal within four to six weeks.
Medication is one method that doctors may recommend. They may encourage you to take over-the-counter pain relievers like Advil, Aleve, Motrin, or some type of ibuprofen. Pain relievers will not only help manage the pain, but can also reduce the swelling in your hand.
I have read that some doctors have prescribed injections of corticosteroid. Apparently this is injected directly into the tendon sheath and will dramatically reduce the swelling. Many people who receive these injections are able to take a single injection and see positive results. Once again – you should talk to a doctor for a diagnosis and treatment.
Therapy is another form of treatment for gamer’s thumb. By seeing a physical or occupational therapist they can look at your hand and wrists and give suggestions on how to make adjustments while gaming to reduce stress on your rest. A therapist can also teach you exercises to strengthen the muscles in your hand which in turn will hopefully reduce pain and reduce inflammation or irritation to your tendons.
Surgery is a possible treatment option if your doctor looks into your case and deems it serious enough. Thankfully this is a last case scenario, but surgery could improve the situation if its dire enough. The surgery entails a doctor inspecting the sheath that surrounds your thumbs tendons and opening the sheath so that the tendons don’t rub against it. This allows less irritation and should heal in a way to prevent future inflammation.
Lifestyle changes and reducing gaming are other treatment recommendations. A doctor could review your hands and tell you that you don’t need surgery, but you do need to make some changes. A doctor could recommend avoiding moving your thumb repeatedly the same way, reducing your gaming, and even potentially suggesting that you wear a splint. If your case is less severe, taking a break from gaming (using your thumb) could be enough for your hands to heal.
Gamer Thumb Can Ruin You If You Let It
As I said earlier – I love to game. While reading about this condition I was fairly afraid that I would develop it, but it seems to be preventable by taking the proper measures. With exercise and video game breaks it is possible to reduce the chances of developing this condition, and keep gaming with healthy hands.
We hope that this article was beneficial to you, and if you’re interested in other topics related to gaming and health you can see a list of related articles here at our Gaming and Health Series. We cover topics like video games and reflexes, toxicity in gaming, and more!