Esport requires new sports medicine protocols

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  • Esports athletes are at risk for physical, psychological and metabolic disorders according to a study published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.


    Esports athletes are at risk for physical, psychological and metabolic disorders according to a study published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

    Across the United States, the esports athlete is a rising class of competitors in the highest collegiate and professional arenas. According to researchers from the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, the field of sports medicine must catch up in order to meet the unique needs of these players.

    Far beyond casual gamers, esports athletes practice 3-10 hours a day, perfecting their strategies and reflexes in their chosen game. While average novice players do about 50 action moves per minute, college and pro athletes do 500 to 600 action moves per minute, or about 10 moves per second.

    “Since esports is done sitting down, you would think it would literally be impossible to injure yourself,” says Hallie Zwibel, DO, director of sports medicine at the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine and co-author of this study. “The truth is, they suffer from overuse injuries like any other athlete, but also serious health issues from the sedentary nature of esports.”

    Not just video games

    Dr Zwibel estimates that his previous research found that 56% of esports athletes suffer from eye strain, 42% report neck and back pain, 36% wrist pain and 32% hand pain. However, only 2% of those who reported illness sought medical treatment. He adds that 40% of those surveyed do not do any physical activity on a given day.

    The study authors note multiple health issues, including blurred vision from excessive screen time, neck and back pain from poor posture, carpal tunnel syndrome due to repetitive motion, metabolic deregulation due to prolonged sitting and high consumption of caffeine and sugar, as well as depression and anxiety resulting from online gaming.

    Esport is mentally and physically demanding

    “We are realizing how physically and mentally demanding esports can be,” says Dr Zwibel. “Like any college or professional athlete, they need coaches, physiotherapists and doctors to help them optimize 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, as an example of the damage esports can have on an athlete’s body. He hopes personalized training regimens and proper medical care can help the next generation of esports athletes avoid similar outcomes.

    There are currently 80 US colleges with varsity esports teams, 22 of which offer scholarships. Colleges, universities and even high schools add more teams each year. Professionally, the global esports industry made over $ 1 billion in 2019, with an audience of nearly 500 million.

    “It’s safe to say esports are not in their infancy anymore,” says Dr. Zwibel. “It’s a world-class competition and a thriving business. It’s time for us in sports medicine to give these athletes the support we know they need. “

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