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Lending a hand to gamers: Mobility support

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Esports athletes have their own set of musculoskeletal issues. Understanding these will help guide appropriate product development in the mobility-support category.

Often, two disparate things work synergistically to provide a desired effect. In esports, wrist and thumb wraps or braces are relied upon to thwart pain from overuse. Buttressing the physical support with supplementation can be an effective two-pronged strategy for long-term support so that esports players can keep on gaming.

Nena Dockery, scientific affairs manager for Stratum Nutrition, said esports players are susceptible to developing conditions (such as de Quervain’s tenosynovitis, which affects the thumb and wrist). This growing population is also vulnerable to the same types of overuse injuries that can lead to osteoarthritis (OA).

Further, she emphasized, “Esports, like any other job or activity that involves prolonged sitting in one position, can lead to inflammation in the soft tissue surrounding the hips and knees, leading to joint stiffness and pain. Spending excessive time in a stationary seated position can eventually result in a shortening of muscles, tendons and ligaments surrounding the joints—restricting movement, and causing additional discomfort and stiffness.”

According to a 2020 Pew Research study, 43% of American adults enjoy esports using a computer, game console and/or cell phone. Orthopedic surgeon Pedro Beredjiklian, who specializes in hand surgery at Rothman Orthopaedics at Jefferson Health (in Pennsylvania and New Jersey), stated he’s seen an increase in injuries from video gaming, the most common of which are carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and synovitis (an inflammatory issue). Of all the digital joints, thumb joints are most affected by constant use on game console controllers, as well as texting and swiping, he added.

According to Aker BioMarine’s Charlie Ross, SVP of the Americas for human health and nutrition, “Musculoskeletal pain (pain between muscles and bones) is common in competitive gaming, fueled by repetitive actions and a tense environment, which leads to less training and therefore reduced performance.” One study of musculoskeletal pain in 188 esports athletes found that 42.6% reported musculoskeletal pain within the previous week in the back (31.3%), neck (11.3%) and shoulders (11.3%), which are the most common sites of discomfort in gamers (BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2020;6[1]:000799). Further, the authors noted the average weekly esports participation volume was significantly lower in the group reporting musculoskeletal discomfort.

According to esportshealthcare.com, distinctive common injuries can result from repetitive motion in gamers:

• Mouse elbow is a type of tendinopathy of the wrist extensor muscles. It is characterized by pain at the outer portion of the elbow during wrist movements and gripping.

• Another elbow injury is medial epicondylosis, a tendinopathy of the wrist flexor muscles, characterized by pain at the inner elbow, when flexing wrist and fingers and closing the hand.

• Console gamers can contract gamer’s thumb, which is a tenosynovitis of two thumb tendon sheaths, explained esports health care experts and chiropractors Cory Csakai, Daniel Carlin and Jordon Centofanti. The pain is not in the thumb per se, but on the thumb side of the forearm and wrist, surrounding the thumb. Grip is also compromised. Unlike mouse elbow and medial epicondylosis, inflammation is associated with gamer’s thumb.

Annie Eng, CEO and founder of HP Ingredients, pointed to inflammation as a key factor in gamers’ repetitive motion injury. “Esports athletes do not tend to think about the biophysical cause of their wrist, thumb or musculoskeletal discomfort, so here is a great opportunity for formulators to create awareness, stimulate the demand and fulfill that demand with appropriate products.”

GELITA has been working with a gamer’s academy in Germany to understand the effects of gaming on the thumb, wrist, forearm and lower back of esports athletes, reported Angie Rimel, marketing communications manager at GELITA. The team is monitoring the pain scale, reaction time and speed performance (validated measurement with a controller), and results will soon be available.

A 2020 study delved into various dilemmas facing the esports industry and where research should be undertaken to accurately determine the risks and what steps might be taken to mediate potential negative effects on participants’ health (J Sport Health Sci. 2020;9:485-488). The authors contended a growing need exists for “mechanistic studies that seek to determine the mechanism(s) of injuries associated with repetitive joint movements or sustained sedentary time during gaming.

A distinct joint health market

Many joint health ingredients on the market with clinical research demonstrating clear efficacy may also have positive impacts on esports athletes. However, the gaming audience would be poorly served if marketers just used the same joint health formula geared toward older adults’ joint health, but with a different name and label.

“Age-related joint support often targets the gradual breakdown of cartilage or other components around the joints, focusing on inflammation and lessening the impact of wear and tear,” Ross pointed out. “In esports, the body needs to be able to perform and deal with repetitive actions and stress in particular areas, like the hands, and the body needs to be able to modulate inflammation and reduce pain. Good nutrition enables the body to deal better with this.”

Dockery added, “Age-related joint support generally centers around ways to reduce pain and stiffness associated with degradation of joint cartilage from overuse or the long-term effect of persistent inflammation after injury. The target tissues for these types of support products are generally the knees, hips and shoulders.”

Gamers do need joint and mobility support, but in different ways. One research team used electronic surveys to find out what the key physical issues are among college-age gamers (BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2019;5[1]:e000467). The researchers queried 65 esports players and found that overall, they played anywhere between three and 10 hours each day. Among the most-reported physical complaints were eye fatigue (56%), neck and back pain (42%), wrist pain (36%) and hand pain (32%). The authors concluded, “Esport players, just like athletes in traditional sports, are susceptible to overuse injuries. The most common complaint was eye fatigue, followed by neck and back pain. This study shows esport athletes are also prone to wrist and hand pain.”

Gaming is only going to grow more popular and therefore, the need for musculoskeletal support will grow, too. Dockery concurred, noting, “This is a prime opportunity for formulators of products targeted for joint and connective tissue support to expand to include products especially targeted at gamers and esports participants.”

Editor’s note: To read related content on this explosive active nutrition segment, download “The esports arms race” digital magazine.

Lisa Schofield is a veteran writer and editor who got her start interviewing rock stars for national music magazines. She now writes and edits content for B2B media and suppliers in the natural health product industry. She has served as editor for Vitamin Retailer and Nutrition Industry Executive, and prior to that as associate editor for Whole Foods.

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