Nintendo Controllers Linked To Mild Injuries: Study

Video game systems are the top Christmas wish for many children this week, but a new study warns about the risk of injuries that may be posed by several Nintendo gaming systems. 

In a study published in the British Medical Journal on December 16, researchers from The Netherlands outline the findings of previously published reports involving injuries and other problems related to the original Nintendo system, Nintendo 64 and Wii gaming consoles.

Nearly 1,200 articles involving mild to life-threatening injuries were identified, including more than 500 in the PubMed database and nearly 700 from Embase. Reports of Nintendo controller injuries ranged from tendonitis, fractures, neurological and psychological problems to surgical concerns.

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Traditional Nintendo controllers were primarily associated with tendinitis of the extensor of the thumb. The joystick on the Nintendo 64 was linked to palmar ulceration, while the Wii remote was associated to musculoskeletal injuries and other traumas.

Overall, most problems were mild and the prevalence was low, compared to the millions of consoles sold. More than 100 million units of Wii have been sold.

The majority of the injuries were related to the way the games were controlled, which varies depending on the console, since each system features controllers of different types.

The study highlighted some of the many reports of injury experienced by playing the different game consoles.

Epilepsy Risks

More seriously, what some dubbed “Nintendo epilepsy,” occurred when gamers experienced generalized seizure after playing Super Mario Brothers for three hours or more. The epilepsy was experienced after watching the rapidly changing screen patterns, which are more likely to affect patients who already have a history of epilepsy.

Several different types of injuries were related to playing the Wii gaming system. Data taken from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System revealed most injuries were to the upper areas of the body, including the face and neck.

Many of the injuries included hand lacerations, bruising and black eyes, most commonly experienced after playing Wii tennis.

Other injuries included pain in the neck, arms, carpal tunnel, partial tears of the Achilles tendon, knee injuries, dislocated patellas and fractures to the cervical vertebrae.

Some of the less serious injuries included three cases of Nintendo related incontinence, when players so engrossed in the game failed to go to the bathroom, ignoring natural urges, and unknowingly relieved themselves while playing.

A young boy experienced neck pain after playing the Game Boy handheld system for 30 minutes straight. He was hunched over in a position where his chin rested on his chest as he bent to view the screen.

Others experienced pain in the elbows after playing games for hours, over the course of months. Nintendinitis was a common report experienced by players. This is marked by problems with the thumb, hand and wrist after strenuous game play.

Ulcerative Nintendinitis, injury to the central palm, was linked to playing on the Nintendo 64. Following reports of these injuries, Nintendo offered protective gloves to owners of the game console to help mitigate injuries.

The study did note the consoles, especially the Wii, did have their positive points. The Wii is used by many as a form of exercise.

The balance board is used to treat patients with multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. Children with cystic fibrosis also use exercise games as therapy; as do those hoping to do cardiovascular training and postoperative rehabilitation.

However, a case study in 2010 detailed a severe foot injury to a girl who fell off her Wii balance board, and led to questions about the safety of Nintendo Wii peripherals.

According to the case report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, many of the more severe injuries are related to use of the Wii Fit balance board, which rests two inches off the ground and requires users to quickly adjust their balance while standing on the board to play certain video games. Most commonly, users suffer what doctors call “Wii-knee” which is caused by frequent bending at the knee while using the balance board. In some cases, the injuries have involved the kneecap becoming dislocated.

As early as 2008, doctors warned about the risk of Nintendo Wii injuries, indicating that they were seeing an alarming number of new injuries by players of the Wii. Most of the injuries were associated with stretched or torn tendons, similar to tennis elbow. Doctors estimated in 2008 that the Wii put an average of 10 users in the hospital every week.

One of the problems, experts say, is that people using the Wii often do not approach it the same way they would normal physical exercise. They do not stretch first and often play for extended periods of time. Stretching before playing and limiting Wii play time to sessions comparable to doing actual exercise could eliminate many injuries, doctors say.

Researchers said overall, Nintendo consoles are a “relatively safe Christmas present.” Yet, they caution those who play the games not to play for too long or to swing or press controllers too hard. They also advise gamers to take frequent breaks.

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