Sports medicine protocols needed for elite gamers, says study
eSports athletes are at risk of physical, psychological and metabolic disorders, according to a study published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.
In the US, eSports athletes are competing in collegiate and professional arenas, practising 3–10 hours per day to perfect their strategies and reflexes. While average novice players make approximately 50 action moves per minute, collegiate and pro athletes make 500–600 action moves per minute, which is about 10 moves per second. According to the researchers, sports medicine needs to be able to address the needs of these players.
“Given eSports are played while sitting, you’d think it would be literally impossible to get injured,” said study author Dr Hallie Zwibel, Director of Sports Medicine at New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) College of Osteopathic Medicine. Dr Zwibel oversees NYIT’s Center for eSports Medicine.
“The truth is they suffer overuse injuries like any other athlete but also significant health concerns from the sedentary nature of the sport.”
The researchers identified multiple health issues experienced by eSports athletes: blurred vision from excessive screen time; neck and back pain from poor posture; carpal tunnel syndrome from repetitive motion; metabolic dysregulation from prolonged sitting and high consumption of caffeine and sugar; and depression and anxiety resulting from internet gaming disorder.
Dr Zwibel said his past research found 56% of eSports athletes experience eye fatigue, 42% report neck and back pain, 36% wrist pain and 32% hand pain. However, only 2% of those reporting an ailment sought medical treatment. He adds that 40% of those surveyed get no additional physical activity in a given day.
“We’re really just now realising how physically and mentally demanding eSports can be,” said Dr Zwibel.
“Like any other college- or pro-level athlete, they need trainers, physical therapists and physicians to help them optimise their performance and maintain long-term health.”
Dr Zwibel considers professional League of Legends player Hai Lam, who retired at 26 due to chronic wrist pain, an example of the toll eSports can take on an athlete’s body. He hopes that tailored training regimens and appropriate medical care can help the next generation of eSports athletes avoid similar outcomes.
In the US, there are currently 80 colleges with varsity eSports teams, with 22 offering scholarships. Colleges, universities and even high schools are adding more teams each year. At the professional level, the global eSports industry earned more than US$1 billion in 2019, with an audience of nearly 500 million.
“It’s safe to say eSports is no longer in its nascent stages,” said Dr Zwibel.
“It’s world-class competition and serious business. It’s time we in sports medicine [and] give these athletes the support we know they need.”
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