In traditional sports, injuries are a big part of a player’s season or even career. We have seen numerous times how such issues completely changed the outcomes of certain matches — or worse. Serious physical damage could risk the player’s career and force him to completely change the style of his play. When talking about injuries in sports, the Derrick Rose situation always comes to my mind. Had his many injuries never happened, would he have gone on to win a title with the Bulls? Would he have become a consecutive MVP for many years to come?
Luckily, such issues are far less common in electronic sports, and we rarely hear of a player getting hurt. Even when we do, those injuries often aren’t a result of their esports career but rather come from everyday occurrences (looking at you InSec). Unfortunately, one type that’s comparable to those in traditional sports is wrist injuries. For example, you could compare wrist damage in esports to ACL tears in basketball. Both ACL tears and wrist injuries can prevent a player from playing for a certain amount of time, force him to change his style of play, or — in the worst of cases — end a player’s career.
With that in mind, let’s move on to explaining what wrist injuries are and why they happen.
What are wrist injuries, and what causes them?
To begin with, we have to specify the type of wrist injuries esports athletes usually face. While there are different types, the most common is the dreaded carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). According to WebMD, CTS is caused by pressure on the median nerve. The nerve runs down the length of your arm, goes through the carpal tunnel (a narrow passage in your wrist) and ends in the hand. It controls your movements plus the feeling of your thumbs and also their movement. Symptoms of CTS include numbness, tingling, or weakness in your hand. In extreme cases, it can even result in slower nerve impulses, loss of feeling in the fingers, and a loss of strength in your wrist.
So what causes this most common of esports injuries? Experts believe there are many causes, but not all are linked to esports athletes. The most common cause seems to be repetitive motions, which are a big part of esports training. Players get better at the game by learning certain patterns and building routines, which is done through training muscle memory. And you guessed it — muscle memory is best trained by doing repetitive motions of the same actions/plays.
Furthermore, a big factor is ergonomics. Improperly placed hands on the keyboard or mouse, in addition to repetitive motions, can worsen the condition tremendously. Another cause that can play a role with esports athletes is obesity. While this has changed for the better in recent years, obesity notably increases the risk of a hand injury. Most teams nowadays do promote a healthy lifestyle for their athletes, but some regions don’t put enough emphasis on it.
Why are esports athletes the most likely to get these injuries, and can they happen to me?
As already mentioned, esports professionals rely on building muscle memory to improve their play. It requires repetitive motions or, put simply, doing the same mouse movements over and over again. With pros, these movements are usually done very quickly and many times throughout games. This leads to overuse, which is a big factor in causing or worsening the condition. Professional players practice anywhere from 8 to 16 hours a day, with not many breaks in between. Add bad hand ergonomics and a lack of stretching to that, and you have yourself a recipe for disaster.
At this point, you might be asking yourself — why don’t these issues happen to regular players? Well, most regular (non-professional) players don’t play for 8 to 16 hours a day. Even if they do, their movements are rarely as rapid. There are certainly exceptions, but you’re highly unlikely to develop such conditions if you don’t overuse your wrist.
Do note this doesn’t only happen to gamers, though, but also office and desk job workers who spend most of their day behind the computer. For example, similar to an esports athlete, a secretary who types all day repeats the exact same motions for hours on end. These workers might be in even more danger of developing an injury, as their employers don’t educate them about the dangers of bad ergonomics. Having the keyboard’s legs lifted up is a common mistake in terms of ergonomics for these workers.
So, all in all, esports athletes are far more likely to develop the syndrome as any regular games. That said, if you do experience any of the aforementioned symptoms, don’t take them lightly. Use the preventative measures we will discuss in the next section. In extreme cases, make sure to visit your doctor.
What can be done to prevent CTS or relieve pain if you already have it?
With the uprise of these injuries in the past, teams started to look into preventative measures and healing options. The first one to come up was wrist braces specifically designed for carpal tunnel patients. These keep your wrist straight, which helps with pain tremendously as bending your wrists squeezes the median nerve. The brace doesn’t let you put pressure on the nerve, which is especially useful while sleeping.
I have already mentioned bad ergonomics as a cause, but improving those can benefit you a lot if you don’t have the symptoms yet. You should try to have your wrist in as much of a neutral position as possible. This goes for both the hand on your keyboard as well as the one your mouse. Using the keyboard legs lifted up is a big no-no, as it forces your hand to bend at the wrist.
The way you grip your mouse also contributes to your overall ergonomics. We know three different grip types: palm, claw and fingertip grip. Palm grip is the best for your wrist, as your hand is completely extended and thus doesn’t put pressure on the median. The claw grip is slightly worse, as your fingers lay perpendicularly on the mouse, causing a slight bend in the wrist. Finally, the fingertip grip causes the biggest bend in your wrist, as your fingers touch the mouse only by their ends. Using a wrist rest can help lift your wrists to a neutral position, especially if you have a high profile keyboard or are a claw or fingertip gripper.
Another thing players began doing once injuries started was stretching. Whether it’s before a scrim session or even in between games, stretching immensely decreases the chance of an injury. It improves circulation and the range of motion in your wrist, and it provides relief to overused muscles. Below are some examples of stretches to do for CTS.
Strengthening exercises are also a good way of preventing the injury. It is recommended that you stretch as much as possible, whether before, between, or after games. Building strength in our wrists also helps offset muscle fatigue and decreases the total load our wrists take.
Furthermore, rest is probably the most important measure one needs to take to prevent such injuries. Professional athletes tend to practice for long hours, without taking many – or any – breaks in-between games or scrim sessions. While it might seem beneficial at the time, this can have dire consequences in the long run. How much rest time you give yourself is up to everyone’s personal judgment. Is it worth potentially sacrificing your entire career for a few more hours of practice? Do those few hours really make that much of a difference? Judge for yourself.
Are wrist injuries the bane of professional esports athletes?
Going back to the original question, I’ll give an answer everyone hates — it depends. If the proper preemptive measures are taken, an esports athlete will likely never experience a wrist injury. On the other hand, there are players who don’t care about the possible wrist problems until it’s already too late. There were arguably too many cases of wrist injuries in the past, some which even ended players’ careers, and so we shouldn’t take this matter lightly.
Teams will have to invest even more money into healthcare for their players concerning these issues. This means educating their players on the potential dangers and letting them know what risks they are taking. Furthermore, teams need to offer players help in cases where these injuries do happen. Again, we have seen times in the past where teams, instead of helping their players, let them go because they couldn’t practice as much as the team wanted them to.
The problem of wrist injuries is real, and we shouldn’t be denying its existence. It can happen to any esports athlete, and no one is excluded. Just take a look at some of the biggest star athletes who have previously had these issues. Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao, a Chinese professional League of Legends player, had to take a break last year due to severe pain in his wrist. Similarly, CS:GO pro player Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer Gustafsson spoke in many interviews about the pain he experiences in his forearm.
Unfortunately, we also know about cases where players had to end their careers due to problems connected with the injury. Former League of Legends professional Hai “Lam” Lam was one such a case, having to retire due to continuous wrist pain caused by CTS. Luckily, most cases don’t force the player to end their careers, but they do still have long-lasting effects.
In conclusion, I’d like to say that wrist injuries aren’t an issue that will go away anytime soon. The culture in esports is geared towards pushing players to practice more and more as competitive standards keep getting higher. However, it is of utmost importance that both the teams and the leagues do their best to raise awareness about the injury. They also have to offer players that suffer from wrist pain both the time and the resources needed to recover.
Once again, esports — similarly to traditional sports — have their risks. Athletes in both have to judge for themselves if risking it all for potential fame is even worth it, especially in the long run.