Oct. 19, 2009 (Philadelphia) -- If your child suffers from unexplained finger or wrist pain, video games could be to blame.
A new study -- initiated by an elementary school student -- suggests 12% of young players have finger pain severe enough to limit their gaming time. Ten percent report wrist pain curtails their playing time.
The long-term health consequences, if any, are unknown. But researchers point to a growing body of evidence linking PDAs, cell phones, and other electronic gadgets to repetitive stress injuries.
The new study was presented today at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology.
Eleven-year-old Deniz Ince, an avid video game player, tells WebMD he wanted to find out if the games were to blame when he noticed his thumb hurt when he squeezed oranges. When his rheumatologist dad realized he wasn't going to drop the issue until he had the answer, the two enlisted the help of researchers at the New York University Hospital for Joint Diseases.
"My original goal was to prove that the new game systems don't cause any problem or pain because they are mostly tilt and motion, not press like the old ones, but my study showed otherwise," Ince says.
With the help of the adult research team, Ince handed out questionnaires to 171 of his classmates, ages 7 to 12, at Rossman Elementary School in St. Louis.
Playtime and Pain
More than 80% reported playing with game consoles such as Wii, Xbox, and PlayStation 3 or handhelds such as iTouch, iPhone, GameBoy, and PlayStation Portable. A third said they played both types of games.
Half said they played less than one hour a day, a third reported playing one to two hours daily, 7% reported playing two to three hours per day, and 6% reported over three hours of play a day.
The longer they played each day, the more likely the children were to experience finger or wrist pain, says researcher Yusuf Yazici, MD, of New York University Hospital for Joint Diseases.
"But the younger the child, the more pain they experienced, independent of how long they played each day," he tells WebMD. "The 7-year-old who played for two hours reported more pain than the 10-year-old who played longer."
Younger children could be more prone to joint pain than older kids because their musculoskeletal systems aren't as developed, Yazici says. "It's likely they can't compensate for the range-of-motion demands on the tendons and muscles."
"Kids who played Wii were two-and-one-half times more likely to report pain than other participants," regardless of their age or how long they played, Yazici says. But he notes that most of the pain was relatively mild.
Edward J. Mendelsohn, MD, of Manhattan Rehabilitation Services, says that parents need to monitor their kids' playing time.
"One hour a day is plenty and probably too much," he tells WebMD.
Also, make sure the young gamers take frequent breaks, stopping to stretch for at least five to 10 minutes after 45 minutes of play, adds Mendelsohn, who was not involved with the work.
As for Ince, he says he's cut back on his gaming to less than an hour a day, although he acknowledges playing longer if a friend comes over.
His advice to other kids: "If you're over 7, don't play more than an hour a day. If you're younger than 7, give it a break until you're older."