Ergonomics and Exercise: Getting Ahead of the GameJune 28, 2022
Thank you to Capitol Tech's Assistant Director of Esports and Competitive Activities, Jack Harrison, for contributing this guest blog about the importance of injury prevention for both casual and competitive gamers.
With our Chargers in the off-season and National Safety Month winding down, it’s a great time to look at the health issues that can affect both gamers as well as desk workers. Long hours at the computer or console can contribute to multiple health problems, with Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), tendonitis, arthritis, and eye strain among the most common. The key to avoiding these types of problems is understanding signs of potential injury before they happen, so that you can equip yourself with the knowledge and tools needed to stay on top of your game.
Wrist injuries are the most frequently reported problem among heavy electronics users. CTS arises from a squeezed nerve which can lead to pain and numbness in the hand and wrist. Tendonitis is a broader term usually referring to overuse injuries that lead to joint and tendon pain as well as swelling. Arthritis is specifically acute or chronic joint inflammation, but is more impacted by genetic factors than the previous two issues.
While there are many risk factors for these types of injuries, excessive use, extension, and flexion of the wrist muscles are some common ones that we can monitor and address, largely by improving the ergonomics of our daily tools. Ergonomics refers to how well something is designed for human interaction, and OSHA considers ergonomics a serious risk factor for work-related injuries and musculoskeletal disorders. At the computer, ergonomic keyboards and mice can be a helpful measure to prevent these hazards.
Reducing arm pronation is a very effective and commonly utilized method to improve ergonomics. Arm pronation is when the two bones in the forearm, the ulna and radius, cross over one another. While normally not an issue, long periods of pronation can put undue stress and pressure on nerves and muscles that rest between those bones. Having a keyboard that is angled for a more neutral wrist position, referred to as a ‘tented’ keyboard, along with angled vertical mice, are both effective ways to help reduce arm pronation and allow for a more comfortable experience.
Other keyboard features to look for are split and ortholinear keyboards. A split keyboard separates the board into two sections. Where tenting helps keep your wrists neutral, a split keyboard allows you to keep your shoulders squared. Ortholinear keyboards align the keys vertically, rather than a standard staggered layout. This reduces travel between keys and energy used typing, which when paired with mechanical switches, may give you a speed advantage in gameplay as well. Do be warned, however, that any change in peripherals will take some getting used to, but will be well worth the short-term struggle.
Another important issue to look out for during those late night gaming or work sessions is eye strain, usually associated with blue light. While devices with high blue light outputs do not contribute to long-term eye damage, they have been shown to significantly disrupt sleep or circadian rhythms. Small font, low contrast, and even blink rate are additional factors contributing to eye strain. Adjusting accessibility settings on various devices by increasing text size or enabling “dark mode” or other high contrast views is a simple way to help limit eye irritation. Eyedrops and blue light blocking glasses may prove useful for temporary relief as well, but there are no long-term solutions to eye strain beyond limiting screen time. There’s no harm in taking breaks during long periods of gaming, especially if you’re experiencing discomfort!
Beyond ergonomics, stretches and exercises can help preserve and improve wrist and hand health. Esportshealthcare.com offers a wide variety of stretches tailored towards gamers and other frequent computer users. The supine flexor and pronated extensor stretches in particular are some great exercises for keeping hands and wrists loose. Plus, their simplicity and speed make them perfect to fit in during queue times between matches! Wrist curls and other forearm and grip-strength exercises have been shown to help prevent overuse injuries and improve the quality of life for those already suffering from musculoskeletal disorders related to hands and wrists.
Anyone interested in Capitol’s Bachelor of Science in Esports Management, minor in Esports and Gaming Administration, or competing on our Chargers Esports team should be aware of these concerns and know what steps to take to prevent injury. I use much of the information presented here in my own life to help recover from and prevent future overuse injuries. If you think you may be suffering from any of the health issues I’ve spoken about above, reach out to your healthcare provider. And to all gamers: never play through the pain. No accomplishment is worth jeopardizing your health. Our Chargers take competition seriously, but esports should never be the number one priority. As a competitor and facilitator, I take both the mental and physical health of myself and my players very seriously, so if you have any concerns, please feel free to reach out to me at any time, either via email, Discord, or just swinging by my office.
Basager, A., Williams Jr, Q. L., Johnson, H., & Mahajan, P. (2020). A User-Centered Ergonomic Keyboard Design To Mitigate Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders. International Journal of Ergonomics, 10(1), 27–42. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://www.cscjournals.org/library/manuscriptinfo.php?mc=IJEG-65
David Ramsey, M. D. (2019, May 1). Will blue light from electronic devices increase my risk of macular degeneration and blindness? Harvard Health. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/will-blue-light-from-electronic-devices-increase-my-risk-of-macular-degeneration-and-blindness-2019040816365
Department of Labor Logo United States Department of Labor. Ergonomics - Overview | Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (n.d.). Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://www.osha.gov/ergonomics
EsportsHealthcare. (2022, April 10). Gamer stretches: 8 exercises to reduce injury risk. Esports Healthcare. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://esportshealthcare.com/gamer-stretches/
Genova, A., Dix, O., Saefan, A., Thakur, M., & Hassan, A. (2020). Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A Review of Literature. Cureus, 12(3), e7333. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.7333
Kaux, J. F., Forthomme, B., Goff, C. L., Crielaard, J. M., & Croisier, J. L. (2011). Current opinions on tendinopathy. Journal of sports science & medicine, 10(2), 238–253. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3761855/
Labbafinejad, Y., Eslami-Farsani, M., Mohammadi, S., Ghasemi, M. S., Reiszadeh, M., & Dehghan, N. (2019). Evaluating muscle activity during work with trackball, trackpad, slanted, and standard mice. Iranian Rehabilitation Journal, 17(2), 121–128. https://doi.org/10.32598/irj.17.2.121
Mulders, M., Sulkers, G., Videler, A. J., Strackee, S. D., & Smeulders, M. (2018). Long-Term Functional Results of a Wrist Exercise Program for Patients with Palmar Midcarpal Instability. Journal of wrist surgery, 7(3), 211–218. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0037-1612594
Senthelal S, Li J, Goyal A, et al. Arthritis. [Updated 2022 May 9]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK518992/
Sheppard, A. L., & Wolffsohn, J. S. (2018). Digital eye strain: prevalence, measurement and amelioration. BMJ open ophthalmology, 3(1), e000146. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjophth-2018-000146