Coping with Video Game Related Repetitive Stress Injuries

Kids playing video games
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If you play video games and your hands start to hurt, you run the risk of suffering a repetitive stress injury that causes pain and even numbness in your hands. These symptoms are caused by swelling and compression along the carpal tunnel, a sheath for a nerve and some tendons that run from the palm to the shoulder.

There are a variety of therapies and devices available that gamers have used to mitigate this pain; however, if you have significant pain and numbness, you should definitely consult a medical professional first—they can advise on exactly what you should do in your specific case, and help avert a worsening or serious injury.

Here are some therapies and treatments others have used to help when their hands hurt from gaming. 

Basic Hand Stretches

Nothing is more important than hand stretches. In fact, if you regularly take breaks from playing games and using your computer to stretch, you have a good chance of avoiding problems altogether.

For a common hand and palm stretch: Hold your hand in front of you, palm facing away, fingers pointed up or down. Then, gently pull your fingers towards you with the other hand. Follow this by pointing the fingers down with the palm facing you, and placing your free hand against the back of the hand you’re stretching. Gently pull your hand towards you once again.

A variation of these stretches is to pull on just the index and middle fingers, instead of all four fingers at once. Then do the same with the ring and pinky fingers separately.

Hand Strengthening

For strengthening, the best thing to use is Theraputty, which is like a big ball of silly putty that you squeeze. This is often preferred to squeezing balls or other devices, because these can cause you to do the same motion in the same way, which isn't good because that's what caused the trouble to begin with.

Cock-Up Splints

The cock-up splint wraps around your thumb and wrist in such a way that you have to keep your wrists in a neutral position, which lessens stress on the carpal tunnel. These can make a huge difference in how long some people are able to work without pain.

Nerve Flossing

If you’re in a lot of pain, you may need some more serious exercises to get your hands in shape.

One thing you can try is nerve flossing. This is movement to slide the nerve along the carpal tunnel. To do this, try holding your arm straight down, palm forward and hand a few inches from your body. Then, flex the wrist back and returning it to neutral, like your hand is a little wing and you’re flapping it. Do this 30 times.

Physical Therapy

If you see a physician for your pain, one of the first treatments suggested is physical therapy. A common mistake people make when doing physical therapy is slacking off or stopping when their pain begins to subside. Once you have an injury, you have to think of it as a permanent thing you must constantly work on, rather than something you fix before going back to normal. 

Some other therapies that you may encounter include ultrasound and electrostimulation, and the alternative methods Active Release Technique and Graston Technique

Ergonomics

One of the best solutions for hand and wrist pain is to try to avoid it in the first place. This is where ergonomics comes in.

For example, when working at the computer, you’re should have your monitor and keyboard set at a proper height, and you should keep your feet flat on the floor. If you're playing video games, you are also better off seated properly. Unfortunately, most gamers tend to slump on the couch. Avoid this, and be aware of how your body is positioned when playing, because when you're engrossed in a great game, you can be in these slouchy and awkward positions for extended periods of time without even realizing it, and thats a recipe for all kinds of physical maladies.

Take breaks, get up, stretch, and walk around every 20 to 30 minutes.

If you play your games on a computer at a desk, set up your computer ergonomically. Also, the use of a mouse for extended periods can be stressful on your hand and wrist. You may want to try a zero-tension mouse like the 3M Ergonomic Mouse, which is basically a control stick on a base that allows you to hold your hand in a vertical, palm-facing-in position. 

Other Stuff to Try

Anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen and naproxen (brand names Advil and Aleve, respectively) can relieve swelling and reduce pain.

Ice packs or a heating pad can also help.

If you also get pain in your shoulders, which can happen (especially with the Wii), massage can help. Find a tight, sore spot, put your finger on it, press hard and move your finger over the spot. Do this ten times, only in one direction. 

Recommended Reading

If you want to learn more and find other stretches and exercises, check out these two recommended books

These books offer stretches and exercises to relieve pain in every part of your body, including your hands.