Ingo Zirpins: The video-gamers’ dilemma
Attention young video gamers and the parents thereof — this is for you! As we are now in the summer months enduring excessive heat waves, smoke from fires and the ongoing pandemic concerns. Many of us are bound to stay in our homes. Media and electronic entertainment become a luring distraction to provide escape from the stressors and worries that ordinary life currently presents. This seems to be especially enjoyed by much of our youth, who through electronic devices have means to connect with each other, as well as be entertained by escape worlds in the form of video games, movies or other alternate realities. However, as with everything, the use of those electronic devices come with a price, and this price could be costly on the long-term health of our youth.
Ergonomics is the process of designing a workplace to fit a user’s needs to avoid repetitive stress injuries. It is common practice to implement concepts of ergonomics for people in the workforce, who remain in fairly non-moving static positions for prolonged times. However, the impact of modern media on our youth, especially those that spend many hours in front of computers, videogames or phones, has not received as much attention as it deserves, especially since our youth is still in a developmental state, physically, mentally and emotionally. While there is much to say on the mental and emotional effect of media and electronics, this article will primarily focus on the physical effects, as well as provide suggestions to hopefully mediate the long-term consequences.
Chronic posturing in developing bodies can lead to long-term postural dysfunctions. Young bones are soft, growing and actually can change shape to accommodate the posture that is held for prolonged times. Equally so, muscles and tendons adapt to chronic posturing, through lengthening or shortening, to support a body in its habitual postural patterns. Thus, one of the most predictable side-effects of electronic media use is poor posture leading to chronic back and neck issues.
“Gamers’ neck,” also referred to as the “Upper-Cross Syndrome,” is a classic postural dysfunction for gamers, computer users and phone / tablet users, where the neck is slanted forward in front of the shoulders, and often accompanied by rounded shoulders and a hunched back. This posturing, if not countered, can lead to a forever posture. Studies have shown that even short periods of frequent video-gaming can result in poor postural control. Long-term effects of this postural syndrome can be chronic headaches, neck pains, and overall decline in physical performance due to physical discomfort. By far the worst contributors to this are games or social media on handheld devices, such as phones or tablets. Users tend to look down to the small screen, because it is uncomfortable to hold the devices up at eye level.
In order to avoid chronic postural conditions, it is important to educate and support our youth in creating a good setup and habits for using those devices. Use chairs, instead of sitting on the ground or lying on the couch. Use pillows for arm support if using handheld devices or laptops and seek to raise those devices to eye level, if possible. On a side note, studies have also shown that adopting an upright seated posture in the face of stress can maintain self-esteem and reduce negative mood.
While it is often difficult to break gamers away from their games, frequent breaks are also very important. Parents are able to restrict game and screen times in younger children, but more mature youth should be encouraged to take a break at least every 45 minutes to do some stretching, moving, and finding ways to get the blood circulation going. Exercising with focus on countering static posture three times a week for 30 minutes has also shown great benefit in avoiding long-term postural dysfunction.
REPETITIVE STRAIN INJURIES
Another common issue is repetitive strain injuries in wrist and finger joints from button pressing, rapid mouse movements, heavy thumb grasping and generally odd wrist and hand positioning to manage game controllers that should be, but often are not, ergonomically designed. “Nintendinitis” was termed as early as in the 80s, describing tendon inflammation syndromes. Common conditions caused by the overuse of game controllers are carpal tunnel syndrome, Gamer’s Thumb or De Quervains’ Tenosynovitis, Trigger Finger where a finger gets stuck in a bent position, Tennis Elbow, and other circulatory disorders.
In order to avoid any of those syndromes, the gamer must understand that ignoring symptoms will only lead to greater problems that could eventually cause permanent nerve damage or potentially could require surgical intervention. If numbness or pain is noticed, gaming needs to stop, and wrist/finger stretching should be taking place to avoid chronicity of symptoms. Shortening consecutive gaming time, again, might be a helpful intervention to moderate aggravation.
Computer vision syndrome (CVS), also coined “digital eye strain,” can also occur from prolonged time spent behind screens, whether it is a phone or a computer screen. Our eyes are used to regular movement and frequent changes of focus from far-distance to close range. Screens request very little of that. This more static eye positioning can lead to eye strain, fatigue and dryness, headaches and increasing blurred vision.
Eye strain can be eased by making sure that lighting in the room is bright enough, and proximity to the screen is close enough to be able to see the screen without the need to squint. There are also safety glasses that block the computer’s blue light to eliminate eye strain. Most important though is to regularly change focus. A tool could be the “20-20-20” rule, where for every twenty minutes of looking at a screen, the user looks at objects 20 feet away, for 20 seconds.
All in all, as my dear colleague John Seivert once wrote, “the best posture is the next posture” since “motion is lotion.” Static posturing is detrimental to our systems and, sadly to say, is the negative side-effect of the integration of modern technology in our everyday lives. Our youth has no concept of long-term consequences. It is on us, the parents and guardians, to protect, educate, guide and support them, so their bodies can thrive into the future.
For more information and suggestions, please have a look at our website at http://www.fitforlifencpt.com/media.
Move better, live better!
Ingo Zirpins, MSPT, has been a physical therapist for 18 years, specializing in Orthopedic Manual and Sports Medicine. He co-owns Fit for Life Physical Therapy (www.fitforlifencpt.com) in Grass Valley with Corey Vanderwouw. MPT
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