Has your thumb ever been sore after a long session of gaming on your PC? What about your wrist? While playing games on your computer is generally a harmless activity, if you do it too much you run into the risk of damaging your wrist, fingers, and even your whole hand.
If you do have wrist pain, what can you do to alleviate it? and why does it happen in the first place? Is it a symptom of a more dangerous problem?
We´ll answer all those questions, starting with...
Why does my wrist hurt after long hours of gaming?
Despite not being as strenuous as exercise, gaming does affect your hands and wrists as if you were doing any other physical activity or sport. It creates a strain on the muscles due to the repetitive actions that you perform over and over while you play. Add some bad posture to the mix and the result is a heavy level of pressure on your hand, wrist, and forearm.
This pressure builds up until small tears begin to form on your tendons and other ligaments which can then become inflamed. If you don´t rest, then your body doesn´t have the chance to heal this damage and it can keep spreading until you have a very big problem with your hands.
The most telltale symptom to know if something is wrong is the pain, either of your wrist, fingers or forearm, but you also have to watch out for:
Swelling of your wrist/base of your thumb.
Extra sensitivity (to pain) on your hand/wrist.
A popping feeling when moving the thumb.
Feeling something like an electric shock in your fingers.
Tingling and/or numbness in all but your pinky finger.
Pain attacking you out of nowhere in the night while sleeping/trying to.
If you have any of the previous symptoms in addition to pain, then your injury might have become something far worse...
Watch out for carpal tunnel and gamer´s thumb
Gamer´s thumb, or tenosynovitis as it´s also known, is a condition in which the tendons that move your thumb become inflamed. Despite the name, it can also affect your wrists and other muscles on your body.
Carpal tunnel is slightly different, it happens when the median nerve between the hand and the forearm gets pinched by the inflamed tissue that surrounds it, sending a near-constant pain signal to the brain.
While both these afflictions are different, they have the same root cause, swollen or inflamed muscles on your hands and wrists. They are no joke, if you have any of the aforementioned symptoms, you should consider going to the doctor before you are unable to keep using a mouse and keyboard (or a gamepad).
Is there anything you can do to prevent these afflictions?
How to prevent wrist pain from using your mouse and keyboard
Take breaks/play less
The easier solution is also the most obvious. Spending less time in front of your computer can prevent your wrists from getting hurt in the first place, but that´s easier said than done. If your work demands you to hammer away at the keyboard all day, then you might not have much choice on the matter.
A more practical solution is to take breaks from your computer. How many and how long should these breaks last is up to each different person, but you should at least try to take your hands away from the mouse and keyboard (or controller) for five minutes every hour.
Stretch before and after playing
Just like if you were about to do exercise, some simple stretches can greatly reduce the risk of your muscles tearing up.
You aren´t getting ready for a game of football, so you can pretty much ignore your legs, arms and other parts of your body, you only need to stretch your hands and wrist. In the following video, doctor Levi has some good exercises you can try.
If you can´t watch a video, here are some pictures to visualize other exercises, courtesy of @bruderkaitlin.
Improve your sitting posture
It is no secret that bad posture can affect your body, but posture goes further than just sitting straight (although that helps too). You want to sit and place your hands in a way that reduces stress to your hands and wrists.
So, how can you improve posture and ergonomics?
Armrests: Play with an armrest supporting your elbows in a way that they are at a 90° angle. This reduces strain on your shoulders and put´s your wrists in a neutral position.
Mouse: Try to grab the mouse with your wrist in a horizontal position, and without your hand bending up. Grab the mouse with your whole palm, not only your fingertips, and without bending your fingers like a claw.
Keyboard: As with the mouse, make sure your wrist is horizontal to the keyboard and that you are not twisting it, or your hand, upwards. Unfortunately, unless you have an ergonomic keyboard, your hand will be a little off the neutral position by design.
Switch up how you are sitting: Even the most ergonomically good posture can give you muscle pain if you remain still for too much. Try switching up your position once in a while, but always keep in mind the aforementioned tips.
Get a more ergonomic mouse and keyboard
Your posture isn´t the only thing that can be geared to be more ergonomic. There is a subsection of specialized PC equipment, mouse and keyboards, that are made to be easier on your wrist and thumbs.
For keyboards, you should look for one that has a wrist rest and an adjustable height angle, as this will let you put it in an angle where your wrist is horizontal when you use it. The keys should also be angled together, like so:
This is done so that you don´t have to bend arms to write, and to give easy access to the mouse.
Your mouse should be the right size for your hand. You should be able to easily grasp it and the buttons on your palm without bending your hand or fingers. This reduces the force and grip necessary to click the mouse, and therefore, the strain on your muscles.
Some say that trackpads are more ergonomic than the mouse, but honestly, the difference isn´t that big.
Most gaming mice are made to be more ergonomic than their run out the mill peers. If you are instead looking for specially made ergonomic mice, well, they exist, but not as you think. There is a special breed of mice that is quite different from the norm, the trackball, and the vertical mice.
Since a trackball mouse makes gaming much more difficult, we´ll focus on the vertical mouse instead.
You hold a vertical mouse much like if you were giving it a handshake. This helps with carpal tunnel as you aren´t pinching the median nerve while you use your mouse. It also naturally improves your posture by keeping your wrist in a more neutral position.
This type of mouse is great if you want to reduce wrist strain, but keep in mind that they are not meant for gaming. They still work quite well, but they will take getting used to, and they aren´t as responsive as the "normal" alternatives (not that most people need that responsiveness outside of tournaments.)
Now, this is all well and good to prevent wrist pain, but what happens if you are already in pain?
How to alleviate wrist pain once it has begun
If you are experiencing pain on your wrists and hands, the best way to heal is to simply do nothing, stop playing and let your muscles rest for a while.
How do you know if your muscles are resting? If they don´t ache or are in pain in their current position, then they are probably a position where they are resting.
While the rest period can vary depending on the severity of your injury, it´s safe to assume that if you are already in pain, you need at least a day off gaming. In any case, you should rest at least until the pain is gone or almost disappeared.
Massages, streches, and excersices
Just like you can do stretches to prevent your wrists from becoming sore, you can do them to fight the swellness.
However, I can´t recommend any specific exercise as I did in the previous section, your doctor should give you the exercises you need to do based on your specific ailment. If you do any stretch that you find online without research, you might end up tearing a muscle that wasn´t supposed to be moving.
Since the pain is caused by swollen muscles, anti-inflammatory medication can help fight the affliction, but with two big caveats.
One, this is not a permanent solution nor a fix, it´s something to help in your recovery.
Two, you shouldn't take any medication without a doctor´s recommendation, no matter how harmless you think it is. Doing so might trigger unwanted side effects, allergies or even addiction if you are not careful.
In other words, go to the doctor
Ultimately, the only cure you can safely try for yourself is resting and seeing if the pain disappears or is alleviated. All the other "cures" require a doctor's supervision.
So, if resting didn't cut it, go to your doctor and have them check up your wrist, you might be starting to develop carpal tunnel syndrome or gamers' thumb. If they are not treated in time, you will need a surgical intervention to fix your arm, so be careful.
The muscles on your hands, fingers, and wrists, can get swollen after performing small repetitive action over a long time, this is common for people who work or play on their computer for hours. Once your ligaments are inflamed, they will start to hurt a lot.
To prevent this, make sure to take breaks from the computer, stretch beforehand, and improve your posture. You can also buy more ergonomic keyboards mice to help fight the affliction.
If you are already in pain, the best thing you can do is give your muscles a chance to rest. Get away from your computer for a while (or stop playing/working) and see if the pain disappears. If it doesn´t, it´s time to go to the doctor. If you ignore the pain you might end with tenosynovitis or carpal tunnel syndrome, both serious afflictions on their own right.
Have any other questions? Let me know in the comments and I´ll try to answer it to the best of my capacity.
You might also be interested in knowing what to do if you get motion sickness from playing VR games. You can also check out where to watch VR movies to have something to do while your wrist is resting.