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Carpal tunnel syndrome can force you out of the running for months at a time, not to mention that it's seriously painful, too. If you're a gamer, you need to take action to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. Here's how.

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) — a painful and long-term inflammation of the carpal tunnel — gained notoriety among office workers a few decades ago. As more and more people are glued to their computers every day, it's only become a growing problem. One once-overlooked demographic, pro and hobby gamers, are now especially at risk.

Unlike the office workers who came down with carpal tunnel syndrome before them (and who may have earned themselves some sick pay), though, many gamers are unlikely to ever see a doctor about their symptoms. Gamers might know exactly why their wrist is hurting and have some idea about the steps they can take to fix that (like, you know, taking a break), but they're at risk of shrugging it off and going in for another round.

Don't believe me? After I developed carpal tunnel syndrome myself, I set off on the brave mission of warning the fellow gamers on my favorite Minecraft server. I've got the anti-testimonials to show what happens when you do this:

  • "I'm not getting carpal tunnel, I'm young and healthy."
  • "Why would I do that, it's just annoying and I wont get it anyway."
  • "That's stupid, I'm not doing that."
  • "I like Minecraft but you are truly better at PvP than me." (AKA, a swear word filtered by your local neighborhood censorship software.)

Because I'm a gamer, too, I know that at least some of these same players have since developed carpal tunnel syndrome.

Don't want that to be you? Take action today.

What Is The Carpal Tunnel?

To get a better picture of the reason you're vulnerable to carpal tunnel syndrome as a gamer, you’ll first need to understand the anatomy of your wrists and hands. Within the base of your hands, there are eight carpal bones — three of these are attached to your forearm, making up the wrist joint. Together, these bones and the flexor retinaculam form your carpal tunnel.

The median nerve is located within your carpal tunnel, connecting to three of your muscles. This nerve makes your thumb, middle finger, and index finger feel stuff.

How exactly does carpal tunnel syndrome develop, though? As you game, your median nerve could get irritated or compressed because:

  • When you have your wrist angled up, down, to the left, or to the right, it compresses the median nerve. I know you're not used to it, but your wrists should be straight.
  • Simply overusing your hands, AKA gaming all day (and perhaps all night, too), is another core source of CTS.
  • If your hands aren't properly supported while you're aiming for insane clicks per second, your median nerve will get angry in no time. EZ.
  • Combine all these factors, and you've got yourself a winning recipe for carpal tunnel syndrome.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in Gamers: What are the symptoms?

Let’s start off with a look at the factors that make gamers more susceptible to carpal tunnel syndrome in the first place.

Competitive gamers — or esport players — spend insane amounts of time practicing games with their wrists forced into an unnatural position. Whenever players are cornered into a really tense situation, their posture shifts, too. The most popular first person shooter games — we’re looking at you, CS:GO! — require players to use very high mouse sensitivity to make sure nobody is sneaking up on them. This means that most players use wrist aim which is one of the most common reasons gamers develop CTS.

As a gamer, how can you tell if you have carpal tunnel syndrome? Well, there are a couple of tell-tale signs of carpal tunnel syndrome:

  • You’ll suffer periodic sensations of numbness and tingling in your thumb, index, and middle finger.
  • Weakness in the thumb is another common symptom of carpal tunnel syndrome. People with CTS often find it harder to grip objects.
  • Severe cases of carpal tunnel syndrome lead to muscle wasting — meaning the muscle mass at the base of your thumb visibly becomes leaner and leaner.
  • Here's a surprise. Your wrist pain gets worse (much worse) when you game.
  • CTS symptoms usually get worse during the night, and many report not being able to sleep because of this.

Gamers should know, though, that not all wrist pain is caused by carpal tunnel syndrome. Gaming can cause equally nasty wrist-pain related things like tendonitis, too. That needs your attention just the same, but if your pinky finger is giving you consistent grief, that's not carpal tunnel syndrome.

Now for the good news: You CAN slash your risk of carpal tunnel syndrome

So, you're a gamer and you think you're at risk of carpal tunnel syndrome? You're absolutely right. If you don't have it yet, GG. Now's the time to act. With some easy exercises that will take only five minutes an hour, you can opt out of pain and save your gaming career.

First, though, check if your setup and posture are increasing your risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.

  • Are your wrists completely even with your mouse and keyboard when you game?
  • Are both your wrists almost completely straight as you use your mouse and hammer away at those WASD keys?
  • Do you have your mouse on the lowest possible sensitivity that still allows you to move around easily?
  • Is your mouse even a good fit for your hand? Some mice have a specifically ergonomic shape — these are great if you have the extra money to spend, and the Logitech MX Vertical is a great example.
  • Are you shaking your hands out every hour for about a minute to keep your wrists flexible?

If you answered "no" to any of these questions, it's time to make some changes.

It’s very important to take at least a short five-minute break from gaming every hour. Get up from your chair. Walk around. Drink some water. Do some carpal tunnel exercises.

These carpal tunnel exercises are extremely simple to do and can save your wrists (and your stats). Do them both before and after a gaming session.

1. Around the World (Wrist Rotations)

Around the world — also known as wrist rotations — requires you to rotate your hands 10 times each in both directions. Simply hold your hands in a resting position, fingers out, and rotate your wrists both ways.You can also do a slightly altered version of this exercise, where you rotate your wrists while making a fist. Do 10 reps per hand.

2. Wrist Flexor and Wrist Extensor Stretch

The wrist flexor and wrist extensor stretches are another great exercise to alleviate and prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.

To do a wrist flexor, start by holding your hand in front of you with your palm facing up at about a 90 degree angle. Now hold your hand up for around 30 seconds.

The wrist extensor stretch is very similar to wrist rotations, but this time your hand is facing down instead of up. This exercise should also be done for 30 seconds. To make the exercise more effective, you can use your other hand to hold the stretching hand in place. You can also perform this exercise by pushing your hands against a wall.

3. Piano (Thumb Touches)

The piano, or thumb touches, exercise is super easy to do and also great for your carpal tunnel. Simply touch all your fingers with your thumb. Repeat this 10 times on each hand and your done. Make sure to do it both ways for the best results!

Doing all these exercises every day will reduce your risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome as a gamer. While they may not get rid of CTS if you already have it, they’ll certainly help ease your symptoms every day, making it less painful. If you notice persistent pain in your wrist that won’t go away, sorry, but you do have to get thee to a doctor to talk about treatment options.

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