Video Games Can Play Havoc With Kids' Joints

The younger the child, the more likely the pain, says research led by an 11-year-old

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HealthDay Reporter

SATURDAY, Oct. 17, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Kids who play video games for more than an hour a day increase their chances of having wrist and finger pain, a new study has found.

The lead author of the study knows this all too well. Deniz Ince, who's 11 years old, got the idea to study joint pain among his classmates at Rossman Elementary in St. Louis, Mo., after noticing that his fingers ached while squeezing oranges. Deniz, an avid Wii player, wondered if his video game habit was the culprit.

With the help of his rheumatologist dad and researchers from New York University, the fifth-grader handed out questionnaires to 171 of his schoolmates who were 7 to 12 years old.

About 80 percent of them reported playing with game consoles (Xbox, PlayStation, Wii and the like) or hand-held devices (including iTouch, iPhone and PlayStation Portable). Roughly half of them said they used them less than an hour a day, about a third said they played one to two hours daily, 7 percent reported playing two to three hours a day and 6 percent reported playing more than three hours daily.

Each additional hour of use increased the likelihood of experiencing pain by 50 percent, according to the study. Younger children were also more likely to have wrist pain than older children.

"The younger the kids, the more significant the pain," said the study's senior author, Dr. Yasuf Yazici, an assistant professor of medicine at the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases in New York City. "The 7-year-old playing for two hours had more pain than the 10-year-old playing for two hours," he said.

The study was to be presented Oct. 19 at the American College of Rheumatology's annual meeting in Philadelphia.

The researchers said they weren't sure why younger children were more prone to joint pain, though it could be because their muscles and tendons are still developing. Similar motions might put more pressure on a younger child's hand and wrist, compared with an older child's, Yazici said.

Almost 12 percent of the kids surveyed said their finger pain was bad enough to limit how much they played, and nearly 10 percent reported wrist pain that limited their playing time. The pain experienced was generally mild.

However, playing a Wii exclusively resulted in more self-reported pain, independent of age or hours played, according to the research.

Dr. Eric Ruderman, an associate professor of medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, said the findings suggest that video game playing may not be good for children's developing muscles and tendons. But because the children weren't examined, he added, the cause of the pain, the potential for long-term damage and how much playing time is safe for a child remain unknown.

"Parents need to monitor what their children are doing," Ruderman said. "Two or three hours a day, irrespective of pain in their hands, is too much time for a 7- or 8-year-old to be playing video games."

Young children also might not be able to recognize the warning signs of overuse and know when to stop playing, Ruderman added.

The findings add to a growing body of research showing that video games, PDAs, cell phones and the assorted other electronic gadgets that have become part of daily life can lead to painful repetitive stress and nerve compression injuries.

Too much texting can bring on "BlackBerry thumb," a repetitive stress injury brought on by overtaxing a single digit. Cell phone elbow, otherwise known as cubital tunnel syndrome, is a tingling or numbness in the hands caused by a compression of the ulnar nerve, which can be brought on by flexing the elbow for too long while talking. "Guitar Hero wrist" is tendinitis of the wrist brought on by efforts to mimic Jimi Hendrix.

For his part, Deniz, who wants to be an orthopedic surgeon, has cut back on his video game playing, though he did plan to celebrate the completion of his study by buying a new Wii game.

And his advice to his fellow students is to turn off their video games, even if it's not easy. "I would tell them they shouldn't play for more than one hour a day," Deniz said. "And if I were younger, I wouldn't play before the age of 7."

More information

The Nemours Foundation has tips for parents on limiting video game and computer use by their children.

SOURCES: Deniz Ince, student and researcher, St. Louis, Mo.; Yasuf Yazici, M.D., assistant professor, medicine, division of rheumatology, New York University School of Medicine and NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases, New York City; Eric Ruderman, M.D., associate professor, medicine, division of rheumatology, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago; Oct. 19, 2009, presentation, American College of Rheumatology annual meeting, Philadelphia

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