As social distance practicing extends through the winter, children are spending more time indoors, where they could be spending extra time locked in on their gaming systems and personal devices.
According to market research by NPD, video game sales approached $1.6 billion in March 2020, the start of the COVID-19 restrictions. That reflects a 35% year-over-year increase, which points to gaming becoming a go-to solution to pass the extra time at home.
It’s important to understand how extensive playing can take its toll on the body. For example, you may have heard of gamer’s thumb. This occurs when rapid, repetitive thumb movements on a controller lead to pain in the hands and wrist. For that reason, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) is addressing common hand and wrist injuries as part of its “Prevent Injuries, America!” campaign.
“Gamer’s thumb, also known as Dequervain’s tenosynovitis, is a condition that causes pain, stiffness and a sensation of pain with thumb and wrist motion,” says AAOS spokesperson and orthopaedic hand surgeon Julie Adams, MD, FAAOS. “Symptoms may show up after extensive use of the hand and wrist, and patients may have swelling or a tender lump at the thumb side of the wrist. Another condition, trigger finger, involves a catching, popping or locking sensation with finger movement accompanied by pain or a tender spot in the palm.”
To steer clear of gamer’s thumb and other injuries that come from hours of sitting and slouching, orthopaedic surgeons with AAOS offer the following safety tips.
Take a break: Setting and enforcing screen time limits is a smart first step. To make this transition easier, help your child come up with a list of other things they can do during their free time. Encourage them to pursue other interests and hobbies, whether it’s perfecting their jump shot or reading an interesting book. Think of things you can do as a family, like preparing a meal together, playing games or letting them help you plan this summer’s garden.
Promote good posture: Slouching on the couch feels relaxing, but in the long run, it can cause aches and pains in the back, neck and arms. During game time, remind your child to keep their back in a normal, slightly arched posture. Even better, provide a chair that supports the lower back and keeps the head and shoulders erect.
Get active: At a time when sports and physical education classes are curtailed or limited, it’s important to encourage kids to find activities that get them moving. It is also important to exercise the upper body and core. Strengthening these areas can reduce lower backaches and take the strain off the smaller muscles of the hand and arm. Make time for getting outside and contact your child’s coach or physical education teacher for ideas and resources for exercising at home.
When in pain, quit the game: When your child or teen complains of pain in the thumb or hand, it’s time to put down the device and the game controller to avoid further aggravation of the tendons. Try having them wear a splint at night. This can keep the affected thumb or finger in a straight position and prevent further injury.
Kids and teens are not too young to experience repetitive strain injuries in the hand. Now that you know the importance of pain prevention, read up on causes and treatment at orthoinfo.org.