Professional gamers are suffering sore necks, backs and wrists as well as blurred vision and mental health issues, a study has found.
Esports has boomed into a lucrative industry in recent years, attracting full-time competitors who play in sold-out arenas for huge prize pots.
But researchers have warned being slumped in front of a screen for hours upon hours can trigger a string of injuries – just like in other sports.
They have now called for a host of changes including getting gamers to exercise more, take frequent breaks and sit further away from screens.
The quarter finals of the esports world championship match in Madrid, Spain. The esports profession has boomed into a lucrative industry attracting full-time competitors who play in sell-out arenas for huge prize pots
Dr Hallie Zwibel, co-author of the paper, said: ‘Given esports are played while sitting, you’d think it would be literally impossible to get injured.
‘The truth is they suffer over-use injuries like any other athlete but also significant health concerns from the sedentary nature of the sport.
‘We’re really just now realising how physically and mentally demanding esports can be.
‘Like any other college or pro-level athlete, they need trainers, physical therapists and physicians to help them optimize their performance and maintain long-term health.’
Experts at the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine examined the self-reported health quality of collegiate esports competitors during game-play by reviewing a slew of previous studies.
They found that 35 per cent of gamers experience neck or back pain, 30 per cent have hand or wrist pain and more than half suffer eye fatigue.
Over 50 per cent of collegiate gamers are hooked on a screen for two hours each day without a break, while more than a quarter play more than five hours (pictured: the gaming festival in Dubai)
The most common reported complaint was tired eyes, known as computer vision syndrome.
More than 50 per cent of collegiate gamers are hooked on a screen for two hours each day without a break, while more than a quarter play more than five hours.
HOW DOES STARING AT A SCREEN AFFECT CHILDREN?
Research has shown spending too much time looking at screens – smartphones, tablets, computers and televisions, for example – can be damaging to children’s intelligence, sleep, mental health and vision.
A 2018 study by the CHEO Research Institute in Ottawa found eight to 11-year-olds performed five per cent worse on brain power tests than their peers if they spent two hours per day looking at screens.
This, they suggested, may be because looking at screens isn’t as stimulating as reading, and could interfere with vital sleep.
Disturbed sleep was also the focus of a warning from the UK’s Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health earlier this year, when it recommended children don’t use screens before bed.
The RCPCH said high levels of screen time are linked to a less healthy diet, a sedentary lifestyle and poorer mental health.
Dr Max Davie, a health officer said: ‘Parents need to get control of their own screen time if they are going to get control of the family’s screen time. It’s much easier to be authoritative if you practise what you preach.’
Dr Langis Michaud, a professor of optometry at the University of Montreal, wrote in The Conversation in February: ‘A rapid increase in visual problems has been noted since the introduction of the smartphone in 2007.
‘While the device itself does not emit harmful radiation, it requires the user to read its screen at a distance of 20 cm rather than the normal distance of 45cm to 50cm.
‘It has been suggested that this close distance boosts the risk of developing myopia by eight times, especially if both parents are myopic.’
Dr Zwibel said that the lack of contrast and definition in pixel-generated computer images increases strain on the eyes which leads to blurred vision.
To alleviate eye fatigue, it is recommended screens should be placed five inches below one’s horizontal line of sight and be at least 20 inches away.
Moreover, the lights in the room should be modified to reduce the glare from the screen.
Gamers are also advised to peel their eyes off the screen every 20 minutes and stare into the distance for 20 seconds.
Prolonged game-time also impacted the players’ necks and backs, with over a third reporting pangs of pain while gaming.
Within 30 minutes of play, research revealed gamers’ heads were drooped forward compared to the spine.
This placed stress on neck muscles which could lead to imbalances, the team wrote in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.
Backrests in gaming chairs exacerbate this stress, the authors claim, by flattening the lumbar and increasing muscle tension.
Dr Zwibel and his team advised stretching and exercises to strengthen the neck and back.
In addition to pain experienced while gaming, the authors also cited several damaging traits of career gamers.
A study they cited found that 40 per cent of esports professionals do not partake in any form of exercise.
And many of them fuel themselves with caffeine and sugar-loaded energy drinks such as GFuel, which markets itself as the ‘official’ drink of esports.
Dr Zwibel also warns of mental health problems associated with esports, manifesting itself in depression and anxiety.
So-called Internet Gaming Disorder affects five million Americans who exhibit at least five of the following symptoms for a year: continued excessive use despite psychosocial problems, deception, escape, functional impairment, loss of interests, preoccupation tolerance, unsuccessful attempts to control, and withdrawal.