Whether you’re a gamer killing enemies with your mouse or a full-time office worker, you spend hours at your computer on a daily basis.
But repetitive motions can permanently injure your wrist, hand, thumb, and fingers. If you don’t pay attention to the first tell-tale symptoms, you may end up with carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), which can only be resolved through surgery. Other keyboard or game-related injuries include “Gamer’s Thumb” and WASD (i.e., keyboard strokes) wrist.
No matter what you’re up to, if you’re on a computer or gaming console for hours every day, you may be at risk for CTS or other hand and wrist injuries.
WTH Is CTS?
CTS refers to carpal tunnel syndrome, an impingement of an essential nerve called the median nerve, which runs from the forearm to the thumb. The median nerve controls sensation and some movement in the thumb, index finger, middle finger and the thumb side of the ring finger.
The median nerve is encased by the carpal tunnel, a narrow tube that runs through the wrist from the forearm to the palm. The carpal tunnel is surrounded by carpal bones on the back and sides of the hand and by the transversal carpal ligament on the palm side of the hand.
When the tendons and other tissues in the carpal tunnel become inflamed, they press on the median nerve, blocking the signals that it transmits to the hand, limiting motion and causing pain. In a situation like that, you’ve got carpal tunnel syndrome.
Can CTS Keep Me AFK?
Yes! If untreated, CTS may keep you “Away From the Keyboard” permanently. The good news is that if you notice symptoms soon enough, you can be treated by a hand and wrist surgeon. At The Fitzmaurice Hand Institute, if it is determined that you need carpal tunnel release surgery, you can even undergo an innovative, minimally invasive CTS procedure called EndoTech® that uses miniature cameras and surgical tools (cool!).
Be sure to find a hand and wrist surgeon to evaluate you if you notice the following symptoms in a hand, wrist, finger or thumb:
- Loss of motion
- Needing to “shake out your hands”
If you’re like a lot of people, you probably sleep with your wrists bent, which can put pressure on the median nerve. Therefore, you might first notice symptoms at night or when you first awaken. Needing to shake out your hands or wrists in the morning is one sign that you may have carpal tunnel syndrome . As time passes, symptoms may appear in the daytime. If untreated, they could begin to worsen.
How Can I Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
If you are beginning to feel the symptoms of CTS, or if you want to prevent them from occurring, you can make adjustments to your gaming system, PC or laptop as well as your movements that will keep your median nerve healthy and functioning:
Get an ergonomic mouse. Almost 50% of professional gamers use an ergonomic gaming mouse. This mouse keeps your wrist straight and your hand in a natural prone, unflexed and untwisted position. You can apply those same principals to other controllers you use or buy ergonomic gaming controllers. While ergonomic mice and controllers may seem like a luxury, if you want to avoid CTS, they’re a necessity. An old mouse, wrong-sized mouse or a mouse that forces you to grip with force may be less expensive in the short run, but could cost you your wrist function in the long run. As a bonus, a wrist-friendly ergonomic mouse may also increase your accuracy.
Get an ergonomic keyboard. Old or poorly designed keyboards require more pressure and can contribute to repetitive force injuries.
Stop grinding and strafing. If you constantly fire with your thumb, over time the repetition can cause swelling that will impinge on the median nerve. The same situation can occur with other fingers as well. Vary your fingering pattern to avoid stressing the same fingers over and over. An ergonomic mouse should help you stop the repetitive sideways motions associated with strafing.
Take hourly wrist breaks. You won’t be able to go to the next level if your wrist stops working. Take short breaks now so you can extend your playing time indefinitely. Our Scottsdale hand specialists can provide lots of effective wrist, finger, hand and thumb exercises and stretches. Be sure your breaks last at least 5 to 10 minutes.
Sit pretty. Correct posture will help alleviate pressure on your wrist:
- Keep your knees at 90 degrees
- Keep your back at 90-135 degrees
- Vary the angle of your back and legs from time to time
- Keep your head above your spine
- Take a back and leg break every hour (flex your wrists then, too)
- Get a posture-correcting cushion
- Rest your arms on a desk or arm rests
Keep your hands warm. On your breaks, you can soak your hands in warm water. You can wear finger-less gloves (make them yourself!) or purchase copper-infused compression gloves.
What Else Contributes to CTS?
As much as you may wish you could spend your whole life playing games, you probably have to engage in other activities, too — such as making a living. Any kind of repetitive motion by the hand, wrist, fingers and thumb can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. A number of occupations that require applying pressure with your hands and/or repetitive motions can make you extra susceptible to median-nerve impingement. Learn more about pinched nerve symptoms at MayoClinic.org.
Be extra careful with your gaming hands if you’re involved in the following jobs or activities:
- Farm work
- Meat and poultry processing
- Factory work
- Receipt processor
- Garment worker
- Electronics worker
Still in Pain?
If you’re already in pain or if you’ve made the recommended changes and still notice tingling or discomfort in your hands, thumbs, fingers or wrists, it’s time to consult a hand and wrist surgeon.
At the Fitzmaurice Hand Institute, we can diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome and other hand and wrist conditions on site with our own ultrasound and x-ray machines. If necessary, you can be treated the same day too.
Unlike traditional endoscopic tunnel release surgery, which has a weeks-long recovery period, the revolutionary EndoTech® procedure, invented by Dr. Michael Fitzmaurice, uses one tiny incision and precisely engineered operating and visualization tools to minimize trauma to the hand. You’ll be back on your keyboard in a few days.
If you suspect you might have the beginnings of CTS or are in need of treatment, you can find us at 8841 E. Bell Rd. St #201 Scottsdale, AZ 85260. You can also call us at (480) 351-6483 or contact us via this email form. We’re open from Monday to Friday from 8 am to 5 pm.