Gaming is a hobby enjoyed by millions of people all over the world…young and old, big or small. Unfortunately, it requires you to remain stationary for long periods of time, which can pose quite a challenge for those of us with chronic pain. If you’re one of the many gamers out there that has to deal with chronic pain, here’s some tips on how to make your hobby a little easier to bear.
Disclaimer: I’m hardly anything even remotely close to being a doctor, so please remember that the suggestions in this article are merely based on my own experience; they may or may not work for you. As always, consult your doctor for the final say when dealing with anything regarding your health.
My chronic pain credentials
I’ve been gaming for almost 24 years at this point. Many of those years have been spent with chronic pain in some form or another: I was once an avid hiker, moved heavy PA sound equipment between the ages of 12 and 19, and worked on cars between the ages of 10 and 22 (the last 3.5 years of which were done professionally.) I’ve dealt with many injuries of varying severity, a few of which have had long-lasting effects. Here’s the list of what I currently deal with on a day-to-day, week-to-week, and month-to-month basis:
- Back pain. I have naturally occurring bone fusion between my L2 and L3 vertebrae, which reduces my range of movement and also makes staying in a single position for long periods of time unbearable. The level of pain changes depending on my activity and the weather, but aside from the occasional flair up, it generally sticks to a dull roar.
- Wrist pain. At the age of 23, I fell and caught myself with my wrists at a 90 degree angle. As a result, I had a Scaphoid fracture in both wrists, a minor fracture in my left Ulna, as well as tendon and ligament damage in both wrists. I couldn’t even pick up a toothbrush for nearly 3 weeks, and although the fractures healed without incident, the tendon and ligament pain has never fully gone away.
- Hip pain. While hiking in the Catskill Mountains, I slid down a long embankment, going over rocks and some fallen branches. I didn’t break anything, but to this day I occasionally get bad hip pains on both sides. This isn’t as much of a problem as it used to be, however I need to shift myself around frequently, or I’ll lock up. This particular set of chronic pain is at its worst during rapidly shifting weather patterns, when the barometric pressure changes quickly.
- Sciatica. This started around the age of 19, which was the time when I stopped moving sound equipment and started working as an auto technician. The combination of both activities is the likely culprit here, although my doctor has never been able to 100% confirm that.
- Left knee pain. I’ve taken hits to my legs multiple times, whether while hiking, moving equipment, or working on cars. There isn’t anything wrong with my knee in a technical sense (i.e. nothing torn), but it occasionally gets pretty bad. My doctor thinks it’s likely that whatever is wrong with it happened during the aforementioned hiking incident.
There you have it. That’s not a complete list of what I have going on, but for our purposes it will suffice. On to the tips!
Back pain is a tough nut to crack, since there are so many different things that can cause it. In my situation however, I find that actively changing my position every 10-15 minutes makes a big difference, as does proper posture. More than anything else though, there are three key areas in your life that you need to adjust: your bed, your desk chair, and your couch. As far as sleeping is concerned, I have a Sleep Number bed, which has made a HUGE difference in my back pain. They’re expensive, a pain in the ass to move, and can be a hassle to maintain if you live in an area with rapidly changing temperatures (*ahem* Maryland), but they’re totally worth it. As for your desk chair, the obvious choice is to pick up something from Herman Miller, but if you’re like me, you aren’t going to want to spend hundreds of dollars on a chair (even if you are willing to spend a couple thousand on a bed. Don’t judge me!) Just shop around until you find something that feels comfortable for 10 minutes, as I tend to find that 10 minutes is a long enough time to tell if something is going to hurt me or not. A lot of people frown on that method, but as I said, that’s what has worked for me.
Couch…ah, the couch. You can find any ol’ foofy thing, but for me personally, nothing beats a giant bean bag chair. We have a 7′ Cozy Sac, and use two child-size bean bags from Target for back support. This allows for a variety of choices in how I situate myself, and makes reading or playing portable games really comfortable. Cozy Sacs are also conducive to snuggling up with your loved one, so there’s that benefit as well You do have to flip it and massage it every few days so it doesn’t flatten out, but they’re a great choice if you have back pain. Just be aware that you may need some help getting up, since they’re quite low to the ground.
In the past year or so, my wrist pain has significantly reduced, but it’s something I still stay keenly aware of. Typically, it flares up when typing for a long time, or when gripping a game controller for long periods of time. The key here is stretching and motion; every 30 minutes or so, slowly rotate your wrists ten times in one direction, then ten times in another direction. Then, flare your fingers outward, and gently stretch them by placing them either against a flat surface, or against each other. This will help keep them nice and loose, and should reduce your symptoms. You can find more wrist-stretching tips (complete with pictures) right here. In fact, if you game for any extended period of time with regularity, I suggest you do those stretches regardless of whether you have chronic pain or not. As anyone alive in the 90′s will tell you, wrist problems are a BFG amongst our kind.
Hip/knee pain and Sciatica
In my situation, all three of these things are helped by the same process. A combination of frequent stretching, re-situating, and proper posture go a long way. As many Sciatica sufferers will tell you, they learn how to sit and how not to sit, in an effort to avoid as much pain as possible. Find whatever sitting positions work best for you, and pay real close attention to the ones that don’t. Over time, you’ll find yourself naturally adjusting to the “good” positions, but always keep a small portion of your brain aware of how you’re sitting or reclining, as the pain sometimes won’t manifest until you try to actually move. I’ve found that positioning is the easiest way to keep this particular trio from hell at bay.
Side note: even though the same thing helps all three of these problems for me, my hip and knee pain are not caused by Sciatica. There are three very distinctly different ways these issues affect me.
Keep the pain at bay
Stretching, exercise, more stretching, and still more exercise. Aside from the tips outlined above, I cannot stress enough how important it is that you stretch twice a day, and exercise at least four times a week. We have a stationary recumbent bike in front of our TV, which I do my best to hop on every day for at least 30 minutes. It’s low-impact, quiet, easy to do while gaming, and effective. On the other hand, if your injuries allow you to lift weights, you definitely should! I used to lift before my wrist injuries made me stop, but prior to that, it definitely helped out with my back. Unfortunately, I’m now stuck with a 35 pound dumbbell :/ If you’re looking for further tips on how to integrate exercise into your gaming routine, you should read this article we posted back in early 2010.
By the way, for most chronic pain, Ibuprofen or Aspirin (or medicinal marijuana, if that’s legal in your state and your chronic pain is the type that can benefit from it) should be enough. If you have an injury that requires you to take opioid-based prescription painkillers on a regular and extended basis, you have serious physical problems that need to be checked out. Chronic pain is bad enough as it is, but you shouldn’t have to resort to potential addiction just to live a slightly less-painful life. Luckily, routine stretching and exercise should be enough to limit the need for opioids (in most cases, anyway.)
In the end, dealing with chronic pain doesn’t have to keep you from gaming. With some smart lifestyle choices and a little bit of effort, you can help keep the badness under control. Remember your four key areas: furniture choice, posture, stretching, and exercise. If you’re suffering from a chronic pain that’s similar to mine, drop me a line and I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have. Be safe, be happy, and game on!
Disclaimer: As stated before, I’m hardly anything even remotely close to being a doctor, so please remember that the suggestions in this article are merely based on my own experience; they may or may not work for you. As always, consult your doctor for the final say when dealing with anything regarding your health.