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VIDEO GAME CRAZE CAN LEAD TO HAND AND WRIST AILMENTS IN CHILDREN
Professional Hand Therapists Issue National Education Alert and
Offer Health Tips to Prevent Future Injuries
Video games encompass 80 percent of entertainment in American homes, and children will spend hours in front of the television and computer monitor this year playing video games. While the dominance of video games may diminish backyard bruises, scrapes and broken bones, the hours children spend engaging in gaming activities can lead to over use injuries of the hand and upper extremities. The American Society of Hand Therapists (ASHT) has issued a national education alert for parents and offering injury prevention tips to help the millions of children/young adults playing video games avoid hand and upper extremity problems later in life.
“It is as important for children to take the proper precautions in playing video games as it is for them to warm-up and safeguard against injury before a soccer game. Video games are immensely popular and hand therapists are working to keep young hands healthy as they enjoy this activity,” said ASHT Past President William W. Walsh, MBA, MHA, OTR/L, CHT. “The repetitive movements associated with playing video games can lead to future ailments given excessive hours of play time. Professional hand therapists are working to educate parents and children on how to avoid potential injury risks and keep young hands healthy.”
According to Walsh, video games involve intense grips, repetitive punching motions on small buttons and sharp wrist movements while guiding joysticks. Extensive video game playing may lead to musculoskeletal disorders or repetitive stress injuries such as “Nintendo Thumb,” a repetitive stress injury that causes swelling at the base of the thumb due to overuse of video games. Continued stress on tendons, nerves and ligaments in children’s hand and arms could potentially lead to long-term ailments such as lateral epicondylitis, also known as “tennis elbow,” tendonitis, bursitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.
ASHT recommends parents teach their children the following hand and wrist exercises to reduce the risk of future injuries:Note: These exercises should never be painful when completing them. You should only feel a gentle stretch. Should you experience pain, please consult a hand therapist or physician.
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Fold your hands together and turn your palms away from your body as you extend your arms forward. You should feel a stretch all the way from your shoulders to your fingers. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat eight times.
Fold your hands together and turn your palms away from your body, but this time extend your arms overhead. You should feel the stretch in your upper torso and shoulders to hand. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat eight times.
Place your hand just above the back of the elbow and gently push your elbow across your chest toward the opposite shoulder. This is a stretch for the upper back and shoulder. Stretch both the right and left arms. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat eight times.
Raise one arm overhead. Bend the elbow. Place the opposite hand on the bent elbow and gently push the elbow back further. This is a stretch for the triceps. Stretch both the right and left arms. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat eight times.
Extend an arm in front of you, making sure the elbow is completely straight. With your palm down, take the opposite hand and bend the hand down toward the floor. Then turn the palm up, and stretch the hand up toward your body. This stretches the forearm and wrist muscles. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat eight times.
Open up hands and spread the fingers are far as possible. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat eight times.
“Parents should not only encourage their children to practice these exercises before playing video games, but also help them to develop overall healthy video game habits. This will keep children from developing injuries while at the same time allowing them to enjoy their favorite games,” said Walsh.
ASHT also provided some overall tips and health guidelines for kids and video gamers of all ages:
Tell your child to use a neutral grip when holding the controller. Try to keep the wrist in a neutral (i.e. unbent) position, and make sure you’re not hunching forward towards the screen. Keep good posture. Holding the game pad near your chest may be a natural reaction when the game play gets going, but keep it closer to your to your lap means less work against gravity and less stress to the muscles.
Take breaks or switch to another activity. Probably the single most important concept, taking frequent breaks allows muscles to rest and recover. Kids often fall into the “video game trance” not realizing how much time is actually spent hours in front of the monitor or computer.
Make sure the monitor is at the correct height. While looking at the horizon, your child’s eyes should be looking at the top of the monitor (this may vary if child wears glasses).
If your child is typing, the keyboard should be at a height so that with his/her wrist/hands are straight, his/her forearms are parallel to the keyboard surface.
When he/she is using a hand held device, encourage your child to put pillows in their laps and rest arms on pillows. This will allow them to keep their head in a more upright position and therefore decrease neck strain. The pillows will help support the arms so they do not have to be held up in the air.
Whenever, possible your child should be sitting in an appropriate chair. This would be a chair that allows your child to comfortably put their feet on the floor and also provides good back support.
When he/she is using a single control device (like a mouse), encourage your child to switch hands frequently. This will allow the one hand to rest and reduce fatigue. A mouse should be located on a desk near the body, rather than out and away.
Hold the game pad or joystick lightly and try to hit the keys with lighter pressure. As the game gets more exciting the tendency is to grip the game pad too hard, this can result in discomfort in the wrist and fingers or thumbs.
Utilize any “programmable” features of the game pad- since repetitive actions can lead to repetitive stress injuries check to see if the game pad can be programmed to group common functions of key sequences.
Have your child frequently focus on a distant object (away from the monitor) to help reduce eye fatigue.
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ASHT stresses the importance of developing good habits early on in children to prevent hand and wrist injuries in adulthood. Healthy techniques learned at a young age can carry over into other aspects of life where there is a similar injury risk such as sitting in front of a computer or playing musical instruments. For more information about prevention technique and professional hand therapy, visit http://www.asht.org/.
The American Society of Hand Therapists is a not-for-profit organization seeking to advance the specialty of hand therapy through communication, education, research and the establishment of clinical standards. ASHT’s 3,000 members in the United States, Canada and around the world strive to be recognized leaders in the hand therapy profession. For more information about hand therapy or to find a hand therapist in your area, visit http://www.asht.org/.
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