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Sports Medicine Researchers Explore Esports Injury Risks

1 Feb, 2020

By: Michael Popke

As the rise of esports continues — evolving into what is predicted to be a $4 billion industry by 2022 — an increasing number of venues are hosting competitions, and reports of participation-related injuries are starting to escalate.Hallie Zwibel, director of sports medicine at the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine, has uncovered some eye-popping statistics. As Athletic Business magazine recently reported, Zwibel’s research found that “56 percent of esports athletes experience eye fatigue, 42 percent report neck and back pain, 36 percent wrist pain and 32 percent hand pain — but only 2 percent are likely to seek medical treatment.”

(Cue the remarks about the majority of gamers being male – and the way that demographic tends to avoid going to the doctor).

“We’ve been trying to collaborate with different institutions to try and work synergistically and come to better population studies and really expand the scope of our understanding of esports,” said Zwibel, who was prompted to focus on this area of research after the New York Institute of Technology launched an esports program.

Zwibel is far from the only physician who has turned his attention to esports injuries.

“You’re probably not going to cause permanent damage but you may cause some disability,” Steven Erickson, medical director of Banner Sports Medicine and Concussion Specialists in Phoenix, told the city’s ABC-TV affiliate last fall. “Some headaches and sleep disturbance, some chronic pain in your elbow, hand or wrist.”

Erickson said the number of amateur gamers he treats is steadily increasing, and USA Today reports that some gamers play eight to 12 hours per day — more on weekends. He stressed the importance of playing in moderation. “It’s relatively safe compared to other contact sports, but certainly I think the message is that with anything you do, maybe moderation is more appropriate than hours of commitment,” he said.

Injuries aren’t just physical, Zwibel added. “Internet gaming disorder has become an actualized diagnosis in the past two years for both the American Psychological Association and the World Health Organization,” he told Athletic Business. “And what it speaks to is pathologic use of gaming, similar to pathologic use of any substances or gambling. Doing an activity could be fine or inconsequential, but you’re doing it to the extent that it’s interfering with and setting back other priorities in your life, and putting you at a disadvantage. You’re not taking care of your family obligations, you’re not showing up to work, you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re not taking care of yourself. It’s all you’re thinking about. So there are lot of different qualities associated with it, but it’s an addiction, at the end of the day, for some people.”

He suggested athletic trainers, coaches, physicians and others working with gamers stress the importance of proper posture while playing, suggest limiting the amount of exposure to bright lights and limiting the amount of screen time before bedtime, and issuing warnings about the dangers of an overly sedentary lifestyle.

“We realized we couldn’t retrofit the [sports medicine] model for a soccer player or a lacrosse player to these esport[s] athletes,” Zwibel said. “So we went to look at the medical literature out there, and we found next to nothing on this topic. So we really felt that this needed to be discussed, needed to be investigated further to determine what the health considerations were in this population.”

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