Olof Kajbjer Gustafsson, one of the most famous Counter-Strike: Global Offensive players, shocked his fans when he announced in 2016 that he had to take a break in his career due to a wrist strain. Professional League of Legends athlete Hai Lam also had to take a break from his career because of a lingering wrist injury. And these are only a few famous esports gamers who had their careers halted due to declining wrist health.
Wrist injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, sprains, strains, and tendonitis, are among the leading health concerns affecting professional and amateur esports players worldwide. Around 30-36% of esports athletes report experiencing wrist and hand pain from spending extensive time performing fine motor movements.
And the problem is only growing as esports become more popular not only among enthusiasts but also casual viewers. The viewership of esports championships is expected to reach over 577 million viewers in 2024 from 465 million in 2021. The growing interest in esports increases competition and puts more stress on the players to outperform their counterparts, leading to declining wrist health and tremendous pressure on players’ professional and personal lives.
Prevalence of wrist injuries in esports players
The growing pressure to stand out and outperform themselves and their competitors pushes professional athletes to spend more time improving their gaming techniques and skills. Sometimes, a player can spend hours gaming on a computer without a break. Small motor movements of using a computer mouse and keyboard, as well as poor posture, affect not only the wrists and hands but also the back, neck, and eyes.
While gaming, a person uses around 400 small motor movements in their fingers, wrists, and elbows. Without taking a break, these tiny movements cause discomfort and, over time, can lead to inflammation in the delicate tendons.
Esports physiotherapist and gamer himself, Dr. Jordan Tsai, shared his experience and what he sees in his practice are the most common wrist problems among professional gamers. The most common reasons for declining wrist health in esports gamers are overuse, poor habits, and bad ergonomics, according to Dr. Tsai. It’s challenging to notice early signs of wrist deterioration because this type of injury is gradual and chronic. Dr. Tsai pointed out that every player should pay attention to the warning signs such as sharp pain in the wrist and hand, numbness and tingling in the fingers, and pain that doesn’t get better with rest.
However, he admits that almost every wrist issue that affects esports players can be preventable with sufficient breaks, medical care, and improved ergonomics if noticed early.
Costly consequences of career-ending injuries in esports
Thomas “ZooMaa” Paparatto, a professional Call of Duty gamer, had to retire at 25 due to a thumb injury that later required surgery. In his announcement, Thomas “ZooMaa” Paparatto wrote, “It breaks my heart to step away from a game I put my heart and soul into every single day for eight years. Tearing up just writing this, but I don’t know what else to do at this point. It’s been an amazing run…” During his exciting career as a professional esports athlete, Thomas “ZooMaa” Paparatto earned $387,019.
Most professional esports players start their careers early, so by the time their peers go to seek higher education and start their professional journeys, gamers spend that time competing in professional arenas and earning exponential amounts of money in sponsorships and victory prizes. Players can earn anywhere from 5 to 6 figures per victory, with some reaching staggering 7-figure prizes.
But an abruptly finished career puts a lot of mental, physical, and financial stress on professional athletes. With many gamers retiring in their 20s or early 30s, recovering and building a new career can be challenging.
Understanding and preventing wrist injuries in esports
Most wrist injuries in esports players could be avoided with regular breaks and attention to your body. “Strengthening, habit changes, regular stretching, and proper ergonomics for peripherals will prevent 99% of problems. I have yet to work with a player that has not improved significantly when addressing all of these areas,” explained Dr. Jordan Tsai. He added, “It’s very important to take at least a few minutes of rest every couple of hours. They should be regularly strengthening the muscles around their wrists and hands as well with resistance training.”
When gamers play for hours, they mainly use their dominant hand to move a computer mouse or type. Typically, the wrist position and motion are unnatural and tensed, which puts a lot of pressure on sensitive tendons. Taking breaks and stretching or doing simple exercises could help a lot to prevent early deterioration of the wrists. But often, on the professional level, a gamer has to play for hours without the possibility of taking a break.
Therefore, combining exercise, sufficient breaks, and ergonomic tools for wrist support, such as gaming gloves, could prevent the early onset of wrist problems. A gaming lifestyle brand, Grindclaw, has performed tests, showing that it’s possible to avoid wrist and hand conditions and even improve motor nerve function with gaming gloves. Wrist protection for esports allows gamers to use it while playing, keeping the wrists in optimal alignment.