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Bad Vibrations

Video-game joysticks can damage youngsters' hands, researchers say

FRIDAY, Feb. 1, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- If you needed another reason to justify limiting your child's video-game time, here it is: Excessive use of vibrating joysticks that control many games can apparently cause damage to youngsters' hands.

The condition is known as "hand-arm vibration syndrome" and is most often associated with the use of heavy machinery, like jackhammers or chain saws. But, in a letter in tomorrow's issue of the British Medical Journal, researchers describe a recent case involving a 15-year old boy with the syndrome.

He was spending as many as seven hours a day playing video games with a controller that vibrates to more realistically simulate driving and other real-life conditions in the games.

"Parents need to know that there is a rare but potential hazard that might occur from the use of these devices," says Dr. John Sills, a consultant pediatric rheumatologist at Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, England, and one of the letter's authors.

The teen complained to his doctors about pain in his hands and noticed that they would become white and swollen when exposed to the cold. Once they were warmed again, pain and redness set in.

These are common symptoms of hand-arm vibration syndrome. Other symptoms include numbness and a pins-and-needles sensation, according to Sills. There's no real treatment for the condition, other then keeping hands warm and avoiding further exposure to vibration. Sills says doctors still don't know exactly why the vibrations cause the disorder.

When it comes to using video game controllers, "moderation is the key word," Sills adds.

At least one game manufacturer agrees. In the list of precautions in the Sony PlayStation 2 game system instruction booklet, the manufacturer recommends taking a break after 30 minutes of using the vibrating controller. The company also warns anyone who has problems in their fingers, hands, wrists or arms not to use the device.

"You can get repetitive stress type injuries from using just about any device," says Dr. Gerard Varlotta, a clinical assistant professor of rehabilitation medicine at the New York University Medical Center/Rusk Institute. But, he says, one isolated case shouldn't be cause for great concern over such a commonly used device.

Nonetheless, both Sills and Varlotta say it's a good idea for parents to limit their children's use of video games and encourage them to take frequent breaks from the games to avoid injuries.

What to Do: Here's what the Alaska Department of Labor has to say about hand-arm vibration syndrome. And this article from the Health, Safety and Environment Office in Lancashire, U.K., offers some tips on prevention of the syndrome.

SOURCES: Interviews with John Sills, M.D., consultant pediatric rheumatologist, Alder Hey Children's Hospital, Liverpool, United Kingdom; Gerard Varlotta, M.D., clinical assistant professor of rehabilitation medicine, New York University Medical Center/Rusk Institute, New York City; Feb. 2, 2002, British Medical Journal
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