For the elderly or disabled, it’s a chance to relive past experiences, socialize, and regain basic motor function. For video-game-addicted children, it offers a chance to get moving. For adults, it’s a promising weight loss tool. Exercise-themed video games like Nintendo’s Wii have exploded in popularity across nearly all demographics over the past several years.
The benefits of these games, if played properly, can be significant. But what about the risks? Steve Genge started using the Wii for weight loss. “Five days a week for the first two months, I would play for about 45 minutes,” he writes, “At the end of each session, I was sweating, my heart was pumping, and I practically had to ice my arms down like a pitcher to stop them from aching.”
Many people forget or overlook that fact that even though games like the Wii are “just video games,” they involve significant physical exertion. Thus, like any exercise program, a Wii fitness regime should be started slowly, and players should take frequent breaks.
Steve Genge lost weight and avoided acute injury, but others, like Andrew Das, author of a New York Times article on Wii injuries, aren’t so lucky. Das writes, “In the moments after I felt the pop in my left shoulder, the sensation I felt was not pain. It was panic. How exactly does a 40-year-old man explain to his wife that he might have torn his rotator cuff during a midnight game of Wii tennis?”
How can you prevent repetitive stress injuries?
Invest time in strengthening and stretching exercises
Start any new exercise program slowly, limiting sessions to 20-30 minutes during the first few weeks
Do a quick warm-up before exercise: walk, stretch, swing your arms around
If you feel discomfort, stop the activity and take a break. Apply ice to any injured areas.
Obviously, it can be embarrassing to explain to friends and family that you’ve managed to seriously injure yourself while playing a video game in your own living room. Das is in excellent company, however. Wii-related injuries are so common that they earned their own medical term, “Wiiitis,” coined by Dr. Julio Bonis of Spain and published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The Wii Have a Problem blog allows users to submit photos and videos of their Wii-related mishaps.
So, what contributes to Wiiitis? Accidents like falling off the Wii Balance Board or colliding with a piece of furniture or other household item are common. The major orthopedic concern, however, is repetitive stress injury, which usually affects the wrists and shoulders of Wii players.
The video games engage the player in a repetitive activity, such as pretending to hit tennis balls or throw punches. Unlike real sports, which may involve other activities like running around or ducking, the Wii encourages the player to use the same muscles over and over. As Dr. Bonis points out, in Wii, “unlike in the real sport, physical strength and endurance are not limiting factors.” This easily leads to overuse injuries, especially since players may become involved in the game and neglect taking necessary breaks. To Nintendo’s credit, the user manual cautions that playing has been linked to repetitive stress injury and recommends taking a 10 -15 minute break every hour.
By starting slowly and stopping play if you feel tired or sore, you’ll most likely be able to avoid repetitive stress injury. If you do fall victim to a case of Wiiitis, put the controller down for at least a week and take over-the-counter pain medications as necessary. See a doctor or orthopedist if you suffer a more serious injury. With a bit of common sense and caution, you can reap the benefits of video game exercises without the painful side effects.
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