Dr. Caitlin McGee: “There’s a Sense of Indestructibility in Young Esports Athletes That Needs Correcting”

Dr. Caitlin “Lurkaderp” McGee’s fame and relevance scaled within the Smash Bros. and FGC community at roughly the same rate that their pros’ bodies were betraying them. The physical therapist’s been to multiple events now, offering consultation to pros and amateurs alike on how to keep their wrists from getting wrecked by repetitive motion, even writing guides targeted at the gamers she works with.

She also runs the Evidence-Based Esports podcast, discussing the health issues relevant to the scene.

(This interview was originally posted January 11th, 2017 on PVPLive)

What’s the most common habit gamers are not aware they are doing, but is actually causing their discomfort?

In terms of habits they’re not aware of, I’d say not addressing issues until they become so painful that they have no choice but to address them. Letting strains and stresses build up over time makes them much more of a hassle to deal with than would prevention, or management of low-level stress. A lot of gamers (and people in general) have the attitude of “well, if it only hurts a little and only after a really long time; it’s fine, I can ignore it.”

And yes, technically, you can ignore it, but only until it starts hurting more than a little and after a shorter period of time.

Why do you think most gamers just ignore the symptoms?

A lot of gamers are younger, and there’s a sense of indestructibility with all young athletes, both in traditional sports and esports. There’s also this perception that you’re not working hard enough unless you’re causing yourself pain, that you have to be feeling it or else you’re clearly not practicing enough. There’s a lack of education about what’s a warning sign versus what’s not all that worrisome.

And on top of that, video games are just fun. You’re going to want to keep playing them even if you’re experiencing pain. It’s the “five more minutes, Mom, please?” that we never quite grew out of.

When you say warning signs, what are some signs that gamers should be mindful of?

Pains that are consistent or regular. Pains that get progressively worse. Pain that was previously manageable with things like icing or stretching or heat, but not anymore. Pain that’s radiating, burning, tingling, or gives you that “pins and needles” sensation. Pain that doesn’t go away with rest.

If someone is experiencing these warning signs, what can do they to prevent it from becoming a full blown issue like carpel tunnel?

The first step is conservative management, generally following the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) model:

Rest: as much as possible, avoid the activity that causes the pain

Ice: up to 20 minutes per hour, always with something between the ice pack and skin

Compression: a supportive brace to keep things in a neutral position or to apply compression to reduce swelling can help

Elevation: not really applicable for most upper extremity issues, since they’re usually above your heart anyway.

However, the “rest” part should have an asterisk next to it, because you want to rest from the activities that make your symptoms worse, but you want to incorporate exercises and stretches that will help prevent the issue from recurring. If you try all of those for two weeks and you’re still having significant symptoms, that’s when you really need to see a doctor.

This is all assuming a non-traumatic thing: if you did a Hungrybox and hurt your finger playing dodgeball (traumatic injury), get to the doctor sooner rather than later.

What’s the least-helpful advice you hear people fling around?

“Just look up (insert random youtube video) here, those are the exact stretches you need to be doing.”

While it’s true that there are some general stretches that will help everybody, everyone is a little bit different and will need to focus on different exercises and stretches as the most important ones for them. Some people need to spend more time on their wrist extensors. Some people need to spend more time addressing scapular stability and mobility. It really depends on what a person’s specific issues are as to what’s most important

Speaking of Youtube videos, are there are ones you do recommend?

Dr. Levi Harrison has good videos; Matt Hwu of CLG also has some great resources available.

What postures/habits should Smash/FGC players avoid?

The most common ones I see for Smash players are leaning forward and supporting the forearms on the thighs, which puts a lot of strain on your neck in terms of posture, and having the wrists tilted down towards the pinky-side of the hand while holding a controller. Leaning back and letting the chair actually support you is much, much better.

For FGC or anything involving a fightstick: slouching. A lot of people sit in this shoulders rounded, hunched, and down posture, and again: leaning back, letting the chair support you, but keeping your back extended and almost imagining that there’s a string attached to your breastbone that’s lifting up is much better, posture-wise.

To close things out, what’s one thing everyone can do to improve their gaming setup?

For PC gamers: make sure your armrests are level with your keyboard and mouse. Adjust everything else around that.

For console gamers: lean back and let the chair to do the work.

For everyone: make sure your setup supports you in good posture.

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