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Gamer’s Thumb Explained: What Is It and How Do You Treat It?

Written by: Jasmine Chiam
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Gamer’s thumb is a nickname given to a painful condition called de Quervain’s tenosynovitis, which is classified as an overuse disease, affecting the bundles of tissue called tendons present at the base of your thumb.

There is less of an emphasis on physical health and fitness in esports gaming than in traditional forms of sports. Yet, research has indicated that esports players are also prone to physical injuries, with gamer’s thumb being one of the most common esports injuries.

While the nickname gamer’s thumb is a little misleading, it does not only affect gamers. In fact, anyone who is exposed to repetitive movements like texting, typing, and lifting on a consistent basis could be more susceptible to this disease [1].

Seeking prompt medical advice and attention is key to optimal recovery. So whether you’re a dedicated professional player or a zealous casual gamer, here’s what you should know about this condition.

How is Esports Related to Gamer’s Thumb

As the popularity of video games continues to surge, the emergence of hand and wrist overuse injuries such as gamer’s thumb, carpal tunnel syndrome, and trigger finger in the esports realm increases [2].

Despite being classified as an overuse disease, the exact underlying cause of gamer’s thumb has yet to be confirmed. However, it is thought to be associated with the repetitive movement of the hands and wrist. Motions such as grasping, clenching, wringing, and pinching will involve the sliding of the tendons through a thin layer of tissue that surrounds them known as the sheath [3].

Gamer’s thumb likely involves a non-inflammatory thickening of the tendons and the tendon sheath present at the base of your thumb. This occurrence is due to consistently repetitive motions. As a result of this thickening, the affected tendons are entrapped, and their smooth movement through the sheaths is hindered. Ultimately, this can lead to noticeable pain, swelling, and discomfort [34].

The prolonged hours an esports player may spend typing on a keyboard, forcefully clenching a mouse, or enthusiastically tapping away on a mobile phone involves repetitive movements associated with the hands and wrist. Continued gaming activity may exacerbate swelling, inflammation, and pain due to continual strain and pressure on the tendons lining the base of the thumb [3].

De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis Symptoms

The hallmark symptom of gamer’s thumb is pain at the radial side of the wrist, which is the inner side closer to the thumb. Any discomfort is accentuated by the movement of the hands and wrist and can sometimes be accompanied by swelling and tenderness [3].

Such symptoms can lead to difficulty handling day-to-day tasks that involve grasping and pinching, such as taking the lid off a jar.

If left untreated, your condition may deteriorate, causing the pain to spread into your thumb or back into the forearm. This pain and discomfort could limit your range of motion [5].

Unfortunately, untreated and progressive de Quervain’s tenosynovitis may interfere with your gameplay experience and performance due to the stabbing (or sometimes dull) ache associated with moving your thumb, hands, and wrists while handling consoles, mouses, or keyboards.

Thus, if you’re active in the competitive scene, it’s always best to seek professional advice at the first sign of any such symptoms to preserve your health and safeguard your esports career.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If you experience any worrying symptoms suggestive of any overuse injury, seeking a prompt diagnosis and treatment is the optimal route to take. In the case that gamer’s thumb is suspected to be the cause, your doctor will perform a physical examination around your thumb and wrist area to confirm the diagnosis. Imaging tests such as x-rays are usually not warranted for such circumstances [6].

Once diagnosed, treatment is steered towards pain relief and the complete restoration of your hand and wrist function. Your doctor may suggest a surgical or nonsurgical approach, depending on the severity of your condition and if you’ve tried any treatment previously. Nonsurgical management options include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications to tackle the swelling and discomfort
  • Corticosteroid injections to remedy the pain and inflammation
  • Immobilizing the affected area with a splint or brace [1,7]

Additionally, you may also be referred to an occupational or physical therapist. They will advise you on the exercises you can perform to improve your condition and walk you through the lifestyle and activity modifications you should make to prevent future recurrences [1,7].

If symptoms persist despite implementing the options mentioned above, your doctor may recommend surgery, which has proven to be effective in most cases. Nonetheless, surgery comes with a higher cost and its share of risks.

As mentioned above, consistent and extended periods spent in esports training or gaming can lead to gamer’s thumb due to the repetitive motions involved. As such, you may be advised to take a temporary break from prolonged practice or gaming sessions to foster optimal and complete recovery. 

Prognosis And Prevention 

With the proper care and treatment, the outcome is usually positive. Many people successfully undergo treatment and can return to normal activities without pain or discomfort.

Once complete recovery is obtained, it is best to avoid prolonged periods of repetitive activity such as gaming and insert regular breaks between training sessions. You may also wish to seek guidance and advice from a healthcare professional on how you can incorporate adaptive and ergonomic equipment into your daily gaming activities. 

Conclusion

Gamer’s thumb is a preventable overuse injury that could result from frequent and prolonged gaming sessions without adequate breaks in between. The resultant pain may interfere with your normal hand and wrist movements, making day-to-day tasks more challenging.

However, you can continue pursuing an esports career if proper treatment and preventative measures are set into place. Such measures include the avoidance of prolonged repetitive motions and adequate room for breaks between long training sessions. It’s also best to ensure your doctor gives you the green light before returning to the competitive scene.


Disclaimer: This is an educational post on gamer’s thumb. It should not substitute the advice given by your healthcare professional. EsportsHeadlines.com and the author of this post disclaim any liability for the decisions you make based on this information, as it is not meant for diagnostic or treatment purposes.