The Claw Grip: A Powerful Tool or Your Hands’ Worst Nightmare?

The claw grip originated from the early days of esports in Halo 2, where infamous players like Walshy handled the controller in such a unique manner that it soon became notorious. So why is there such bad press around this grip? Why do people associate pain with it? And how the hell are we going to fix it?!

In this article, we’ll cover the ins and outs of the claw grip. We’ll look at its role within competitive FPS games. Then we’ll dive into understanding the anatomy of the hands when performing this grip and observing why individuals suffer from pain. Finally, we’ll aim to help SOLVE those pain issues by giving a few tips and tricks on how to prevent and manage it.

The History of Claw Grip

Since the dawn of controller-based games such as Halo, Call of Duty and Fortnite, pros and youtubers have put out click-baity videos titled something like “Why YOU need to play with the CLAW grip”.

For me, as an avid online competitive gamer since the days of Halo 3, the claw grip always had a sense of wonder about it, with pros wielding such a grip being touted as THE best (such as the likes of FearItSelf or Walshy). As a 16-year-old, wanting to emulate their apparent success within the game, the natural progression for me was to copy such a grip! … Cut to 2 days of agonizing pain later, the claw grip soon became unbearable. Not long after, plenty of media outlets started writing about the damaging effects of the claw grip. Clearly, the claw grip was a painful grip which should never be used again… or, should it?

Before we answer this, we must first understand the role of the Claw Grip and why it gained so much popularity within competitive FPS games. In terms of in-game mechanics, this controller grip allows players to press the controller buttons whilst simultaneously keeping control of the movement, aim (right and left sticks) and triggers (middle fingers).

This grip reduces the need to sacrifice aim or movement in order to press a button for in-game mechanics such as reloading or melee attacks. Due to this advantage, it is clear as to why many players from amateur to professional have adopted such a grip. As popularity of this grip continued, so did the countless number of outlets suggesting its damaging effects on the hands. So do all pros who use this grip deal with pain? Why might it cause pain in the first place? To answer that, we must understand the anatomy.

Hand Anatomy for Gripping

Within the claw grip, pain is often described as a dull, numbing sensation running through the hand and sometimes into the wrist. It primarily occurs through the over-use of the associated muscles without sufficient support. These muscles include:

The Palmar Interosseous

Sounds complicated; it’s not. This muscle is responsible for adducting the fingers. In the case of the claw grip, these muscles push the buttons down! Most of the strain comes from the 2nd PI as it is constantly pressing the index. Not only are they already stretched when resting on the buttons, but more often than not these muscles are not well trained. Both of these factors causes increased fatigue and overuse, subsequently increasing injury risk.

First and Second Dorsal Interosseus

In a general sense, these muscles are responsible for abducting (separating) your index and middle finger from the rest of your hand. In the claw grip, this separation lifts the finger off the face of the controller, so you’re not pressing all the buttons at once! Given how often you need to do this motion, especially with high APM games, you’re using these muscles a lot. Therefore, near-CONSTANT activation of these tiny muscles is present, thus potentially causing pain, fatigue and more than likely injury over sustained use.

Lumbricals

Other assistors of flexion and extension of the fingers are the lumbricals. They assist not only when moving the index finger around the buttons, but also when pressing the trigger itself. This is due to their relatively extended position, and they can become particularly tight after long bouts of gaming.

Extensor Digitorum and Indicis

These muscles, just like their name tells you, create extension of your digits (and wrist)! Open your hand and bend your wrist back towards you. Yep, it’s that muscle. In the case of the claw grip, the muscle is most active when you pull your middle finger off the trigger as well as using your index to press the buttons.

Issues with these extensor muscles primarily occur due to INCREASED FATIGUE and OVERUSE! When resting on a controller, the fingers are already in a position of relative extension. Adding further extension causes more fatigue! Pain with injury to these muscles will often occur within the wrist to forearm area.

Flexor Digitorum Superficialis and Profundus

You’ve probably figured this out by now. These two create flexion of your wrist and 4 fingers! Do the same activity as you did in Extensor Digitorum, but bend your wrist the other way. For the claw grip, these muscles will be active when you’re pressing the trigger (with your middle fingers) and will assist in pressing the controller buttons as well.

Reality of Pain with Claw Grip

Now we know the different types of muscles that are involved in the claw grip, it’s important that we face reality:

  1. The body can adapt to (almost) anything!
  2. Ergonomics is just a tiny piece of overall esports health.

Let’s focus on adaption first. Much like any other activity, the body must adapt to its new surroundings in order to function without hindrance. A similar process happens when we train the body for exercise. At first, it is extremely difficult with many aches and pains happening throughout early adoption. Over time, however, the activity becomes easier and easier. The same principle applies for the claw grip. We must first condition our bodies so that we do not suffer injuries long-term.

This leads nicely to the second point. Ergonomics–in this case, the use of the claw grip–makes up a tiny part of your overall health in esports. The best form of injury prevention involves a combination of physical conditioning, lifestyle, and habits as priorities, and then addressing your posture and ergonomics. Many people suffer from injury and pain due to a lack of overall conditioning (through a lack of exercise and stretching) along with a lack of healthy lifestyle habits such as nutrition, posture and sleep. If you’re looking for a holistic approach to addressing an injury or pain, check out our “Game Without Pain” services or our Patreon Injury Coaching!

Conditioning for Claw Grip

In order to play at the most optimal level by using the claw grip, we have to condition the body to use it! And it’s important to remember that this process will take TIME. Don’t give up if you don’t see changes right away, slow and steady adaptation is the trick. So how do we do it?

Here are 3 KEY ACTIVITES YOU CAN DO to assist this process and ultimately prevent you from having pain.

  1. Exercise and Stretch Your Hands

Much like any other form of exercise, we must prepare and condition our hands so that when they are placed in this grip, they can adapt! On the 1HP Youtube we have some great tips on how you can stretch and exercise your hands and wrists. Here are a few exercises to prioritize.

Finger Abduction Stretch

Finger Abduction Stretch: spread your fingers out as far as you can, and then bring them back together.

Finger Abduction Strengthening with Manual Resistance

Finger Abduction Strengthening with Manual Resistance: Place your hand on the table. Use the index finger of your opposite hand to resist the movement of your fingers on the table. By applying a “pulling” or “pushing” pressure, you are training the interosseus muscles that we spoke about earlier.

Theraputty Exercises. Source: Physitrack

Theraputty Exercises: Theraputty is an exercise device that comes in a variety of resistances. You can use it for abduction (pulling fingers apart) or adduction (pushing fingers together) exercises easily. This is a great way to manage, or adapt your fingers, hand and wrist to ANY new grip. You can check out more exercises here.

2. Rest (Appropriately)

Relative rest is extremely important for any adaption. Whether you are running a marathon or simply warming up your hands for a certain grip, your body needs time and recovery for adptation. We must rest our body and let it repair itself. Remember that you’re still pushing and pulling your hand through all sorts of different positions, so let it rest once in a while! This is particularly important if you are experience pain or any discomfort. Remember, we aren’t stopping ALL exercise, just allow our bodies time to heal.

Of course if you do explore this topic further and get into the nitty gritty details of what YOU CAN DO to help your hands, visit other articles on the 1HP site such as: “Healthy hands and wrists for play”.

3. Address Lifestyle Habits

It’s crucial that we create a well-rounded, healthy athlete. Whether you’re an amateur or a professional, the same principles apply. Improvement of your lifestyle can come through better nutritional behavior, better quality sleep (no more checking your phone!), and better gaming posture.

Tl;dr: Claw Grip for Gamers

Pain might differ depending on the type of controller used as different intensities, frequencies, and durations of muscle activity are required. We also have to consider the type of game played. Different games will require different game mechanics and different most frequent button presses. As is the case with science, it often depends. Overall, there are 3 important things to keep in mind when you’re transitioning to the claw grip or dealing with pain from it:

  • Exercise and stretch
  • Allow time for body to adapt
  • Improve lifestyle habits

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