How to Save Your Hands, Your Back, and Maybe Your Stocks with Stretches
When it comes to any video games, ergonomics play an enormous role in preventing injury. For your standard PC gamers, an ergonomic setup is a little bit more clear: armrests at the same height as the keyboard/mouse, top of the monitor even with the eye line, good back support on your chair, feet planted on the floor. For anyone using a controller, the proper ergonomics to avoid pain is not so clear.
For the most part, it’s a lot harder to sit fully upright and still have your hands/arms supported in a comfortable position when you’re using a controller unless you have something like a lap desk tray to support the controller on (which may not be as stable or comfortable as players like). Back and neck stretches are key to avoiding back pain at long tournaments and preventing long-term stress on the back.
Neck and shoulder stretches are just as important; I’ve never met a player who didn’t have a tendency to let their shoulders creep up towards their ears as they get more tense during a tournament. Simply being aware of that tendency can help prevent it from happening, but postural habits can be hard to break. When possible, pay attention to your posture. Your head and neck shouldn’t be pushed forward, but aligned as directly over your shoulders as possible with your chin slightly inclined towards your neck/chest. When you find your muscles getting too tight to maintain good posture, take some time to stretch or relax against a chair with good back and neck support (not always easy to find at a hotel venue, I know).
Please note that if you have sharp neck pain, a feeling of “pinching” when you turn or tilt your head to the side, or symptoms of pain/numbness/tingling/weakness down your arms, this may indicate a serious nerve issue that you need to talk to your doctor about. Similarly, any persistent symptoms down your legs likely indicate nerve issues in your low back. This is not the kind of thing you want to mess around with; go see your doctor immediately if you develop these symptoms.
Now for the stretches everyone REALLY wants to see–hand and wrist stretches! Keep in mind that if you already have hand or wrist symptoms, these will not be comfortable. You should NEVER force your body into a stretch that makes your symptoms worse. Move to whatever range of motion you can; it will improve with time. If any of these stretches exacerbate your symptoms, you should not do them (or at the very least, see a PT in real life first). However, if you are tight or have built up stress, these may be uncomfortable. That will get better!
There are other things you can do to address pain and inflammation in your hands and wrists besides stretching and good ergonomics. Many players use handwarmers to assist with warming up before games. Generally, heat is used to address stiffness and tightness. However, if you have swelling, inflammation, or pain from anything other than tight muscles, heat will worsen your symptoms rather than improve them. If you absolutely have to use handwarmers before you play, and you have hand and wrist pain from something like carpal tunnel, consider using ice and an anti-inflammatory (as long as you have no underlying conditions that would prevent you from doing so), allowing your hands to return to room temperature, and then using the handwarmers. Ice should always be applied with a barrier between it and the skin (at least a paper towel-width) to prevent skin damage; it should be applied for 15-20 minutes and should feel first like cold, then burning, then aching, then numbness in the area where it is applied. Heat should also be applied with a barrier between it and the skin, but for closer to 10-15 minutes. If you’re going to be doing stretches, heat should be the last thing applied. If you’re done playing for a period of time, ice should be applied.
You can also roll out tight muscles using several easy-to-pack implements, the primary ones being a tennis ball and a frozen water bottle/soda can/etc. To roll out knots in your palm or forearm, place the ball between the table and the knot and apply pressure downward through the ball while rolling it slowly. You can use a similar technique for your forearm, but if you find this too painful you may want to use the larger surface area of the water bottle. The tennis ball can also be used for your back–place the tennis ball between your knot and the wall, and use your legs to move your trunk as you lean back against it. Caveat: you will look silly doing this.
The above stretches are ones you can do easily while playing. Other stretches that are worthwhile to consider are illustrated below.
Arch your lower back down and extend your head/neck, then slowly roll your head down as you roll your lower/mid back up. Hold each position for 5 seconds; spend at least 5 seconds moving between each position.
Starting from the same position as cat-camel, slowly sink your bottom back towards your heels while extending your arms and shoulders. Your back should remain rounded throughout this stretch.
Cross one ankle over the opposite knee. Push the crossed leg away while pulling the supporting leg towards your chest. Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds.
THE BOTTOM LINE – STRETCHING AND GAMING
Stretching can be important to undo the stress of prolonged sitting. The list of stretches and exercises above are meant, if performed every day and of course considering your posture and ergonomics, to prevent the development of common esports injuries.
Try these out and let me know how you feel!
MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: The information provided here is made available for the sole purpose of providing general information about ergonomics. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any injuries, illnesses, or conditions, nor should it be interpreted as such. If you are experiencing pain, excessive fatigue, or other health issues, consult a medical professional. The information provided by the author and contained in this article does not serve or purport to serve as a substitute for the advice of a qualified practitioner.