5 most common health concerns for esport athletes

MANILA, Philippines - It may come as a surprise to many, especially to those who still dismiss professional gaming as a sport, that its athletes suffer from injuries and face health risks the same way athletes of any other sport do. Despite the lack of physical contact or what some consider to be athletic activity, gaming for hours on end takes a toll on the body and mind. 

Being a relatively new sport, most doctors and medical professionals working with these athletes are still studying the potential health problems of esports. They believe that long-term problems have only begun manifesting themselves on more seasoned players; but due to esports’ immense popularity more and more cases of concern come to public attention. (READ: P526.6M at stake for PH Dota teams TNC and Execration in tourney)

Here are just some of the more common health concerns and injuries that come with being an esport athlete. 

1) Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and wrist injuries due to repetitive motion

This is the most common injury threatening most, if not all esport athletes, possibly ending their careers.  

According to Blitz Esports, a professional gaming news website devoted to games like League of Legends (LoL) and Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), when these athletes spend countless hours playing, the intense repetitive movement of the fingers and hand causes swelling. Because of this, pressure is applied on the median nerve found in the carpal tunnel, whose primary function is to carry information from the hand to the brain and vice versa.

Early symptoms include numbness and tingling but, as time passes use of the hand becomes more and more difficult. 

The site goes on to note that most young players tend to ignore early signs of hand or wrist pain, thinking that their bodies can repair itself in due time. These athletes fail to realize that the pain they are feeling could jeopardize their professional gaming careers and force them into retirement. 

2) Collapsed lung due to poor posture, inactive lifestyle

Popular gaming website Kotaku earlier this year reported that there have been six high-profile esport athletes who have suffered from a spontaneous pneumothorax, otherwise known as a collapsed lung, over the last seven years. Those suffering from this often feel pain in the chest, shoulders, or back and difficulty breathing. 

The correlation between esports and the ailment isn't 100% clear yet but upon consulting with medical professionals, the website further notes that the incidents could have been caused by poor body posture, an unhealthy diet, an inactive lifestyle, and bad breathing techniques, often observed in these athletes.  

3) Performance-enhancing drugs  

In a 2015 interview, CS:GO player Kory “Semphis” Friesen said that his entire team was on Adderall, a drug used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder; when used by a normal person, it was said that the drug boosts concentration and focus especially when in the game. 

Business Insider, who worked on a story regarding this discovery in the esport world, claims that there is little evidence that drugs like adderall give these athletes an extra advantage. They go on to say that abuse of these drugs could lead to increase heart rate and blood pressure. The worst thing is that the drug can be addictive and regular dosage might be necessary for the user to keep feeling the effects. 

While there's no direct correlation that professional gaming leads to drug addiction, the concern here is similar to some pro athletes making use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). With big prizes on the line, there is incentive for teams to make use of PEDs, especially if organizing bodies don't keep a close eye. 

4) Mental fatigue and early burnout

Import as reflexes are, the key to most victories in esports is credited to sound strategy and a focused mind. Yet most of these athletes, similar to that from other sports, can be burdened by immense pressure and anxiety.  

A lot of the esport athletes are recruited at a young age and enter a world they are not accustomed to. On top of now being a public figure, they often give up time for family and friends to practice at least 12-16 hours a day. ESPN, in an article believes that it is this intense lifestyle that causes most of these esport athletes to fatigue and burnout, often retiring in their mid-twenties. 

5) Poor nutrition and lack of exercise

As mentioned previously, the amount of time these athletes commit to practice may not give them much room for other matters – even much-needed physical exercise. On a positive note, more and more esport teams have started working with medical professionals to help their athletes stay in shape, and the hope is that the movement continues. 

An esport team that disregards these two essentials will not be sustainable and may lead to faster player burnout. The holistic, sustainable approach would be to treat esports as not just a mental game but also a physical game that trains players for both aspects.   

Much like traditional sports in its early stages and infancy, esports is going to stumble, making a few mistakes to get to where it should be. Those in esports have to first acknowledge these concerns in order to address them. The lack of associations or unions for these esport athletes mean that they themselves have to know and impose their own rights. Most of all, they have to be vigilant of their health in the hopes of prolonging their often short careers as professional gamers. – Rappler.com

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