Ask The Doc: Repetitive Motion

By July 26, 2012
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Note from GeekNation Editor: GeekNation’s Doctor Wasserman is a licensed Medical Doctor who is here to talk about the medical issues that affect those of us who consider gaming and surfing the internet to be competitive sports.

Being a Geek can be a dangerous job. Did you know that sitting in front of a computer or gaming system for 12 hours a day can actually cause injury? Computers and video games stress your eyes, mind, body and joints… not to mention, computer keyboards are five times dirtier than your toilet seat, (but I’ll save THAT for another blog post).

Today, let’s talk about repetitive motion.

Repetitive motion injuries are probably the most obvious type of injury that can occur in people spending their day in front of a computer keyboard, joystick or controller.  This isn’t just about gamers, this is a significant issue in the businesses world as well, as these types of injuries cost companies over $20 billion a year in workers compensation!

Do you have a repetitive motion injury? I can give you a few hints, but it’s important to stress that if you think you have any kind of an injury you should go see a doctor in person, but here are a few clues to look for…

1. Do you have pain or tenderness in your fingers, wrists, forearms or elbows?

2. Have you noticed throbbing, tingling or numbness in your fingers?

3. Does it seem like you have developed weakness in your hands or arms?

All of these are symptoms that might be related to a number of repetitive motion injuries and you should seriously consider seeing a doctor and making a few changes to your lifestyle.

These kinds of injuries are caused by overuse, repeated actions and vibrating equipment. Another, less obvious causes is body position, which can put your arms and hands in unusual positions that lead to problems.

The most common condition stemming from repetitive motion is carpal tunnel syndrome.  However, tendonitis and bursitis are also potential problems. There are other, more nuanced diagnoses, but the bottom line is that a body part being overused is either irritated or inflamed.

If you have persistent weakness or numbness, you should definitely see a doctor. If you don’t have health insurance, you can find a low-cost clinic in your area.

What can you do to help improve the problem? If your symptoms are transient and are obviously related to overuse, the first thing you need to do is rest. If rest leads to improvement in symptoms, get a little more rest. You need to give your body an opportunity to recover and heal. Stretching can be very helpful, which usually means putting your fingers and wrists in the direction opposite that of which they are being used.

Here’s a quick chart with some good exercises you can use to help ease or prevent the pain, tingling and numbness associated with some repetitive motion injuries.

Vitamin B6 can also be a useful supplement, but don’t depend on it as the only treatment. Anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen or other medications can be useful in the short term. However, these medications have potential side effects that include ulcers, gastritis and kidney damage. Heat followed by ice can actually provide a similar anti-inflammatory treatment without the side effects.

Here are some ways to prevent overuse injuries.

1. The first thing is to be aware of your position in relation to the keyboard. In other words, work on your posture! Just like your mother always told you. This will reduce your chance of developing some problems in the first place.

2. Be as ergonomic as possible. This essentially means putting yourself in a comfortable and natural position.

3. Make sure that you take breaks and give your body an opportunity to rest. Be aware that getting away from the computer, but immediately texting for a half an hour on your phone may not give you that necessary rest.

Do you have a question for me about a gaming or computer related problem or injury? Feel free to send me an email and I might answer your question on GeekNation.com.

AskTheDoc@GeekNation.com