Gaming Hand Pain in Kids
Most children and adolescents regularly experience physical injuries from ordinary play and sports. However, with the increasing popularity of computer and video games (especially during the pandemic), some kids are now feeling the same kind of pains and aches that adults get from sitting behind their desks all day.
In 2020, video game sales approached $1.6 billion during 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 for kids.
Taking steps to prevent computer and video game injuries can ease pain today and possibly minimize the risk of long-term damage.
What kind of injuries can you get from gaming?
Console video game injuries. These are the most common injuries that bring gamers into the doctor’s office and include gamer’s thumb and tennis elbow.
Computer video game injuries. These injuries are consistent with desk-job injuries, with carpal tunnel syndrome being the most common.
Wii Sports & active video game injuries. While not as common, it is true that you can develop the same injuries and sprains in your hands playing an esport as you would playing a live game of tennis, bowling, etc.
Gamer’s thumb is technically called De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis, but it has many nicknames including Nintendo Thumb, Playstation Thumb, WASD Wrist, and Nintendonitis. This injury occurs from repetitive stress that causes inflammation and irritation of the tendons and the sheath around them. Symptoms include:
Pain and/or swelling at the base of the thumb
Difficulty grasping or pinching
Pain when turning or flexing the wrist
Pain when making a fist
You don't have to be on the tennis court to develop tennis elbow — you can get it just by playing video games. The repetitive motion of gaming can damage the tendon that helps your fingers extend. You will feel pain in the elbow and forearm, which could reach down the entire length of your arm and hands.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is normally the result of compression of the median nerve as it passes through the wrist. In fact, it is the most common nerve compression injury and it is the most costly and common repetitive strain injury. It can be caused by both excessive gaming and prolonged computer use. Typical symptoms usually include:
Weakness in grasping
Index and thumb finger pinching, and other thumb movements
Clumsiness, like dropping things and awkward hand movements
Paresthesias or abnormal sensations such as numbness or tingling in the thumb, middle, and index fingers
How to relieve or avoid gaming injuries
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.
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.