The Health Risks of Esports vs. Physical Sports
When thinking about injuries in sports, it’s not uncommon to focus on physical or traditional sports. It’s worth acknowledging that there are also health risks involved with esports as well, which people play both recreationally and professionally. The growth of online gaming and the esports industry is drawing huge numbers of players and spectators alike, which makes it important to recognize the unique health risks that esports can present.
Many young people are turning to esports rather than (or in addition to) physical sports. This doesn’t mean that they are no longer susceptible to the same injuries as traditional sports players. Research has shown that gaming injuries are becoming more commonplace and can include wrist and neck injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, and more.
Common Esports Injuries
Over 75% of teens reported that they play video games, with a majority of those teens considering themselves a “gamer.”
When esports athletes play, they may do so for extended periods of time; sometimes playing for hours upon hours. This, coupled with how often they play, has the potential to take a toll on their bodies and mind.
Wrist pain is a common ailment among esports athletes and gamers. In most gamers, wrist pain is caused by overuse while playing games. If left untreated, it can worsen and cause tendonitis, carpal tunnel, and gamer’s thumb, among other injuries.
Wearing a wrist brace while playing can help to ease wrist pain. It’s also recommended that you avoid playing games if you are experiencing a high level of pain in your wrist. Unfortunately, most game controllers are not ergonomically designed for extended use.
Back and Neck Pain
Bad posture can be detrimental to an esports gamer. The static postures that gamers have to stay in for hours on end are not beneficial to back and neck health. In the best of cases, it can contribute to minor back and neck pain — in worse cases, it can cause more serious injuries like sciatica.
A 2018 study of 65 collegiate esport athletes showed that 42% of them reported back and neck pain as a result of gaming. And these esports injury statistics are similar across multiple studies and articles.
Gamers can eliminate or better manage their back and neck pain by investing in a chair or couch that has ergonomic benefits. Even if you feel comfortable in your current chair, it’s important to have back and neck support in your gaming furniture.
Mental Fatigue and Stress
Mental fatigue and stress are real problems that esports athletes are facing. One of the biggest strains is the effect that blue lights have on your vision. In the same study of 65 collegiate esports athletes cited above, a whopping 56% of athletes reported having eye fatigue due to prolonged gaming.
Not to mention the mental fatigue and the stress of winning or trying to win can take a toll on your mental health and anxiety. With 5G now available to support gaming, many new audiences and athletes are entering the esports world. Fortunately, there may be some mental health benefits to gaming, and as with all things, moderation and balance may help offset the potential mental health risks of gaming.
Common Injuries in Traditional Sports
Many people are familiar with the common injuries in traditional, physical sports. Many people don’t realize though, that esports athletes have a lot in common with traditional athletes in this sense.
The injuries that these two types of athletes sustain are very similar. With esports injuries, the pain or injury is typically caused by overuse. This is the same with traditional sports injuries, too.
Some of the most common injuries in traditional sports are sprains, knee injuries, and mental distress. Let’s discuss each of these and how they compare against esports injuries.
Sprains are the most common injury suffered by traditional athletes. Football players, hockey players, basketball players, and more are all susceptible to sprains due to the nature of their games.
Ankle sprains and hamstring sprains are the most common among sprains in athletes. These types of sprains can occur from overuse – just like they can with esports. The best way to avoid sprains is to stretch before games and avoid overusing one particular part of your body.
Knee injuries are another common injury for athletes who play traditional sports. Physical sports are extremely demanding and knee injuries can happen fairly easily. Your knee could be injured by another player, by overuse, or by landing or stepping on it the wrong way.
The best way to prevent knee injuries is to protect your knee while you're playing the game. Wearing a brace can help to prevent knee pain from overuse.
Mental distress can take a toll on traditional athletes in similar ways that it affects esports athletes. According to a study by the National Institute of Health (NIH), the demands and pressure of gaming competitions are contributing to mental health illnesses in esports athletes. Though not an “injury” in the conventional sense, the very real competitive nature and high stakes of esports can cause unhealthy stress or other behavioral health issues if not properly managed. The stress of winning (or losing) can be detrimental to an athlete's mental wellbeing. Not to mention how tiring it can be to play game after game after game with no break.
Many athletes experience something called “athletic identity” which can cause further harm to their mental health. This happens when an athlete is only recognized for what they do while they play sports. It can cause stress, anxiety, and fear. This can occur in esports athletes as well. It’s important for all athletes to take care of their mental health as well as their physical health. Seeing a therapist or counselor can help athletes manage their stress.