Ask a medic: Why does my wrist hurt?

I’ve been spending more time gaming because of the whole global pandemic thing and my hands and wrists have been hurting more. Is that just because I’ve been playing more, or is there something more serious I should be worried about?

About the author

Caitlin McGee is a physical therapist with a background in neuroscience and exercise/sport science. She is the co-owner and performance and esports medicine director of 1HP, a company that provides health and performance services to esports players, teams, and organizations. She has been working in esports medicine for 6 years.

It sounds like you’re dealing with some repetitive strain issues. Strain is a combination of how much work you ask the tissues in your body to do and how long you ask them to work. It can involve quite a few factors: What position is your wrist resting in? How conditioned are the muscles that move and stabilize it? How much moving do you do at your wrist? How fast and how frequent are the movements? How much force do you use?

In general, the more time you spend doing work with the same tissues—muscles, tendons, joints—the more strain those tissues are under. That increased strain doesn’t have to result in injury, but it can if your body isn’t prepared to take on that amount of strain. Think of how a marathon runner trains: They don’t just go out and run a marathon, they spend months building up their mileage and their pace slowly so that their tissues can adapt to the increased load bit by bit. Gaming may not be as strenuous as marathon running, but the same principles apply to the tissues in your hands, wrists, and arms. 

Check to make sure your desk is setup so that your wrists stay straight.

Check to make sure your desk is setup so that your wrists stay straight. (Image credit: Federica Litrico)

In this particular case, given the general descriptor of “hurting more” and the fact that you’ve had a big increase in the time you spend gaming, you’ve probably put a little more strain on your tissues than they were prepared for. The solution for that isn’t to stop entirely. The solution here is to start adding in ways of building up your muscles and tendons and ways of helping them recover. If you continually strain those tissues without giving them time to adapt, you can end up with a repetitive strain injury.

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