Video games can cause real sports injuries | St. Louis Public Radio

Video games can cause real sports injuries

May 8, 2008

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: As always, doctors this spring will see an increase in overuse injuries that come from the golf course, tennis court and our beloved baseball diamond. But now they are also treating patients injured from playing these sports in their family rooms.

Nintendo, specifically Wii, and other computer games, such as Guitar Hero, have spawned a spate of injuries familiar to many athletes -- tendonitis, bursitis, sprains and strains. Shoulders, elbows, wrists and hands can all feel the pain, just like the real deal. Well, maybe not just like ... but close.

And while these injuries are being classified with such unique monikers as "Nintendinitis" and "Wii-itis", the traditional names and corresponding definitions still hold true and include the following:


Tendonitis is an inflammation of a tendon and/or tendon sheath(s) and can refer to inflamed tendons all over the body.

A 2007 report in the New England Journal of Medicine detailed a case in which a 29-year-old medical resident woke up with intense pain in his shoulder after playing Wii, giving rise to the sub-classification "Wi-itis" to describe his diagnosed shoulder tendonitis.

de Quervain's tenosynovitis

Another specific type of tendonitis, de Quervain's tenosynovitis is an inflammation of the sheath of tendons on the thumb side of the wrist. The result is a restriction of the tendons' movement and a discomfort and pain with movement of the wrist, such as grasping or making a fist.


Bursitis is an irritation of fluid sacs that provide cushioning around some joints in the body, such as the elbow.

Sprains and strains and symptoms...Oh my!

A sprain is a tear in the supporting ligaments surrounding a joint that usually follows a sharp or sudden movement and can be partial or complete. A strain is a pulled muscle or tendon.

And the symptoms for all overuse injuries mentioned above often include pain (especially with movement), swelling, and loss of motion or mobility.

How to recover and get back in the game

Step away from the device. Immediately. And rest until resolved.

Essentially, just cutting back on -or cutting out- what you're doing and perhaps a few days of taking ibuprofen or aspirin (if approved by your physician) will do the trick. Once gamers give it a rest, the inflammation and pain should start to resolve. But if symptoms are ignored and play continues, the aches and pains can stick around and even get worse. And it is important to note that severe or persistent pain should always prompt a visit to the doctor.

Putting the ACTIVE in active gaming

Some data support the use of these active gaming systems as a positive departure from the largely sedentary nature of computers and video games in general.

This new generation of video games requires significantly greater energy than do traditional video games, according to an article in a December 2007 edition of the British Medical Journal.

In the study, five girls and six boys (aged 13 to 15) were recruited to play an active video game system (Wii Sports by Nintendo) and a sedentary video game system (Xbox 360 by Microsoft). Researchers calculated and compared the amounts of energy expended in both pursuits.

They found that energy expenditures during active gaming were at least 51 percent greater than during sedentary gaming. However, active gaming was predicted to increase total energy expenditure over passive gaming by less than 2 percent when looked at in the big picture of normal and overall routines.

Even so, researchers believe active gaming is a step in the right direction. And "given the current prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity, such positive behaviors should be encouraged."

The BMJ study was funded by Cake, the marketing arm of Nintendo U.K.

"Put me in, Coach"

While active computer gaming is more physical than computer games of the past and may indeed carry risk of specific overuse injuries, most can be managed easily and conservatively. Gamers can usually get back in the game quickly.

But don't forget to back away if it gets too addictive or consuming; any kind of excessive computer usage can way too easily distract from getting in the real game.

For information

For more on the studies referenced above, visit:

To obtain the abstract or full text:

NEJM Full Text

BMJ Abstract

BMJ Full Text


Dr. Cindy Haines is managing editor of Healthday-Physician's Briefing and president of Haines Medical Communications, Inc., a full service medical communications and consulting firm. As a board-certified family physician, Haines is well-versed in all areas of health care, with particular interest in fitness, nutrition, and psychological health.

Her weekly column on health care issues will appear here each Friday, and you can listen to Dr. Haines' House Call on KTRS.