Gamer’s Thumb – the not so fun side of gaming

Published: 24 Feb 2020

Gamer’s Thumb – the not so fun side of gaming

Gamer’s love gaming.  That total immersion in a fantasy world where you are able to perform feats that you could never imagine in real life.  Did you know that too much time gaming can have real life consequences?

Are you currently experiencing a constant achy pain around and below your thumb? Does it hurt when you grip or move it? Have you recently had a long 6-hour gaming session? You might have the “Gamer’s Thumb” also known as De Quervain’s tenosynovitis.

What is Gamer’s thumb?

Gamer’s thumb is also known as De Quervain’s tenosynovitis.  It is inflammation of the tendons located at the base of your thumb. The  tendons commonly involved are the extensor pollicus brevis and abductor pollicus longus which is wrapped by a fibrous white sheath as you can see from the pictures below. This band holds the tendons together and causes them to rub against each other and become irritated when the sheath becomes thickened or inflamed.

Gamer's Thumb

Extensor pollicus brevis and abductor pollicus longus are muscles that attach to the bones of the thumb, but the muscle belly is in the forearm.

What causes Gamer’s Thumb?

Repetitive use and movements with the thumb and wrist such as holding a gaming controller with repetitive movement of the joy stick or typing.

Is this exclusive to playing games?

No – thankfully, or you would never be able to convince your mum to let you play.  Other things that can cause De Quervain’s tenosynovitis include:

  • texting
  • direct trauma to your wrist below the thumb
  • chronic overuse such as from golf, playing piano, carpentry
  • pregnancy (pregnancy can result in swelling in the body that can increase the likelihood of De Quervain’s tenosynovitis)
  • caring for a new baby  – all the carrying, lifting and twisting bottles

What does Gamer’s Thumb feel like?

There are a number of signs that you might be developing Gamer’s thumb:

  • pain just below your thumb after gaming
  • tenderness around the tendon sheath
  • swelling below your thumb
  • painful or weak grip strength
  • pain which radiates up your forearm when grasping or moving the thumb

How can I prevent Gamer’s Thumb?

Overuse of the thumb is one of the biggest contributors to this condition.

  • Take frequent rest breaks e.g. every 30 mins
  • Play for shorter period at a time
  • Stop and change position regularly
  • These stretches may also be helpful (and they feel good)

I’ve got the Gamer’s thumb! How can physiotherapy help?

Physiotherapists are experts in managing tendon injuries.  To support you to recover from Gamer’s Thumb your physiotherapist will:

  • perform a thorough history and assessment of your wrist and thumb,
  • use some manual therapy to relax the muscles surrounding your wrist and thumb to reduce muscle tone and restrictions in your thumb movements,
  • support you with a program for strengthening and stretching of muscles which move your thumbs in different directions,
  • in some cases, your physio may recommend splinting or bracing of your thumb to reduce repetitive movement and help the tendons recover, and
  • provide advice on how to change your activities so you can still do what you love.

Our team are available to help whenever you need.  You can even book online.