Video games are a popular hobby for kids and adults alike – in fact, there are an estimated 177 million gamers in the United States alone. While you may not associate playing video games with musculoskeletal injuries, over time the quick, repetitive motions and hours of playing time can cause the tissues in the hand and wrist to become inflamed and irritated, causing a condition known as gamer’s thumb.
What is Gamer’s Thumb?
Gamer’s thumb, medically known as De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis, is caused by swelling of the tendons on the thumb side of the wrist. Gamer’s thumb is a painful condition that occurs when the tendons are constricted by the sheath that they run through to get from the wrist to the hand. Symptoms include:
- Pain and tenderness
- Swelling on the thumb side of the wrist
- A catching or snapping sensation when you move your thumb
- Difficulty moving the thumb and wrist
De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis is common in activities that rely on repetitive hand or wrist movement including playing racket sports, golf, or lifting a baby. People with rheumatoid arthritis may also be more susceptible to the condition.
Pro Tips to Prevent Gamer’s Thumb
Take a break. It’s important to set and adhere to structured screen times for kids to prevent overuse injuries and poor posture habits. Adults benefit from breaks too! Slouching for long periods of time can cause aches and pains in the back and neck. Try using a chair that supports the lower back and keeps the head and shoulders upright.
Keep moving. Exercise and outdoor activity promote healthy lifestyle choices and strengthen the muscles to help reduce the possibility of aches and strains.
Stop when your thumb starts to hurt. As with any sports or activity-related injury, you can get hurt when you push too hard. If your thumb or wrist gets sore, it’s time for a break to prevent further injury.
Wear protective gear. Dr. Somogyi recommends a thumb spica brace to rest the tendons responsible for the pain in gamer’s thumb. Topical anti-inflammatories can also provide relief when experiencing pain.
Stretch. Gentle stretching exercises before gaming activity can help prevent later symptoms. Stretching is also important as a cool down if needed.
When to See an Orthopedic Specialist for Gamer’s Thumb
If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of gamer’s thumb that persist or worsen, Dr. Somogyi recommends seeing an orthopedic specialist who can provide nonsurgical treatment options to reduce the swelling of the tendons. These may include removeable splints that can be worn at night, over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen, or a corticosteroid injection for severe symptoms.