The response of many people who hear about gaming as a competitive sport is a scoff, a chuckle, or downright disbelief, but esports is a serious gig. The industry itself earned more than $1 billion in 2019, and there are 80 US colleges with varsity esports teams with 22 offering scholarships. These teams can practice anywhere from 3 to 10 hours a day, which is a long time to do any activity. While there seem to be no immediate physical concerns that go along with other athletics like concussions or broken bones, there are several health risks that need to be considered and monitored for those who are into gaming at any level.
Many experts are urging medicines of all disciplines to take this activity more seriously and learn more about the risks that coincide with esports. One study published in the Journal of American Osteopathic Association dives into how modern medicine needs to catch up with the emerging issues that accompany gaming. Researchers looked at the “physician’s role in promoting health and reducing injury in this new gaming phenomenon.”
“Given esports are played while sitting, you’d think it would be literally impossible to get injured. The truth is they suffer over-use injuries like any other athlete but also significant health concerns from the sedentary nature of the sport.”
Hallie Zwibel, DO, director of sports medicine at New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) College of Osteopathic Medicine & study co-author
To start the study, researchers surveyed current gamers to assess pain points. Of the esport athletes surveyed:
- 40% get no physical activity in a given day
- 56% experience eye fatigue
- 42% report neck (gamer’s neck) and back pain
- 36% experience wrist pain
- 32% experience hand pain
Perhaps the most concerning finding for medical professionals is that only 2% sought help for any of the above-reported ailments. Here’s how these complaints are tied to competitive gaming.
Eye fatigue and blurred vision are attributed to excessive screen time. Neck and back pain can be linked to poor posture, and carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger, and other wrist/hand pain are from the repetitive motions all gamers do. In fact, one professional League of Legends player had to retire at 26 because of chronic wrist pain. Internal disruption is common among gamers, too. Metabolic dysregulation can occur due to prolonged sitting and high caffeine and sugar intake.
Mentally, gamers can suffer from depression and anxiety. Internet gaming disorder has been discussed as a possible addition to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is used by mental health professionals to identify mental disorders. Internet gaming disorder includes online gaming or on any electronic device. Similar to gambling addiction, the disorder states that “gaming must cause ‘significant impairment or distress’ in several aspects of a person’s life.” Internet gaming disorder requires a person to experience 5 or more of the following symptoms in a year:
- Preoccupation with gaming
- Withdrawal symptoms when gaming is taken away or not possible (sadness, anxiety, irritability)
- Tolerance, the need to spend more time gaming to satisfy the urge
- Inability to reduce playing, unsuccessful attempts to quit gaming
- Giving up other activities, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities due to gaming
- Continuing to game despite problems
- Deceiving family members or others about the amount of time spent on gaming
- The use of gaming to relieve negative moods, such as guilt or hopelessness
- Risk, having jeopardized or lost a job or relationship due to gaming
Ultimately, gaming needs to be treated like any other sport/competition – “with trainers, physical therapists, and physicians to help them optimize their performance and maintain long-term health.” For eye care professionals, asking patient history questions related to gaming and screen time can help identify these patients and get them the help they need.
Additionally, symptoms like tired eyes and eye strain can be helped with EyePromise® Screen Shield™ Pro, an eye vitamin designed to protect the eyes from excessive screen time. Esports athletes most commonly complain about eye fatigue. In a one-a-day softgel serving, Screen Shield Pro is an easy addition to a daily routine, whether it’s for a professional/collegiate player or a recreational gamer. Computer vision syndrome is found in 90% of individuals using a computer for 3+ hours per day, so someone whose job requires a computer could also benefit from Screen Shield Pro supplementation.
As esports grows in popularity, its impact on health grows, too. Awareness of the health risks surrounding gaming and what can be done must grow accordingly. Health care professionals should ask questions related to screen time/gaming, and patients need to be talking to their physicians about their screen usage. Proactively identifying issues can help reduce injury in esports and make using screens more comfortable for everyone.
- American Osteopathic Association. “Elite-level video gaming requires new protocols in sports medicine: Esport athletes at risk for physical, psychological and metabolic disorders.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 November 2019. sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/11/191104121617.htm.
- Zwibel H, DiFrancisco-Donoghue J, DeFeo A, Yao S. An Osteopathic Physician’s Approach to the Esports Athlete. J Am Osteopath Assoc 2019;119(11):756–762. doi: https://doi.org/10.7556/jaoa.2019.125.
- “Internet Gaming.” Edited by Ranna Parekh, Internet Gaming, June 2018, psychiatry.org/patients-families/internet-gaming.