Fewer and fewer children are hurting themselves while playing outside. That’s not good news from the Big Playground or a triumph for the local parks system. It’s a product of fewer kids spending substantive time on their own outdoors. At the same time, a countervailing trend is emerging. There has been a marked rise in “Nintendoitis” and “Playstation thumb” as well as injuries sustained from falling out of chairs. As kids hurt themselves less falling out of trees, they are, with help from their controllers, finding new ways to hurt themselves indoors.
Today’s children spend about half the time their parents did playing outside. And as many as 91 percent of children between the ages 2 to 17 currently play video games — a 13 percent increase from 2009. One recent study of 171 children ages 7 to 12 found that 12 percent of them experienced finger pain and 10 percent suffered from wrist pain. Interestingly, the younger players were, the more vulnerable they were to pain as well. Study co-author Dr. Yusuf Yazici, a Rheumatologist at New York University Hospital suspects this has to do with the fact that their muscles and tendons are still developing. “The younger the child, the more pain they experienced, independent of how long they played each day,” Yazici explained to WebMD.
“Prolonged playing of video games can lead to repetitive stress injuries, like carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis” says Allen Conrad, a chiropractor. “Sitting in one position for hours of repetitively hitting buttons on a game controller can lead to repeated pain and inflammation, and without treatment could cause permanent damage”
Inflammation is a defense mechanism of the body often in response to an injury or repetitive use. The kind of acute joint inflammation that occurs from “Nintendoitis,” “Playstation Thumb,” and other video game-related injuries is particularly problematic because the onset is subtle and can go undetected until it becomes more severe. The signs of acute inflammation from such stress injuries include redness, swelling, pain, immobility, and heat or warmth coming from the afflicted area.
Hospital data from the United Kingdom indicates that repetitive stress injuries in hands and wrists from holding video game controllers and pushing buttons went up 35 percent over roughly the last decade. The same study also noted that avoiding outdoor exercise appeared to put kids at further risk of getting hurt indoors. Reportedly 2,365 children under the age of 14 had injuries from falling from chairs (there’s no way to be sure based on the data that those falls were endured while playing video games). The not so good news? The number of kids who hurt themselves climbing trees declined 36 percent– from 1,823 incidents in 1999 to 1,163 in 2006.
Still, if getting hurt is an inevitable part of growing up, most parents would probably rather their kids do it while playing outside, because at least then the risks are more comparable to the rewards. Outdoor play helps kids build sensory skills, facilitates social and cognitive development, builds their immune systems, and reduces their odds of becoming obese. And when they fall, an overwhelming amount of experts agree that children develop resilience learn important lessons about how to manage risk for when mom and dad aren’t around. When they get injured playing video games, all they really learn is that their hands hurt, which won’t help them protect themselves if they ever make it outside.