More Wii Warriors Are Playing Hurt

The New York Times—April 20, 2009

Consumers who avoided sedentary video-game systems have flocked to the Wii, which lures users off the couch with a handheld, wireless remote and a selection of familiar, free-swinging games like tennis, boxing and bowling. For some parents, and even grandparents, the games are a way to connect with children on their own turf. The fact that everyone gets a little exercise along the way is an added plus.

“It’s great in the concept that it gets people active and involved,” said Dr. Brian Halpern, a sports medicine physician at Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan. “It’s not great in that you get lost in that and are overloading areas that you haven’t worked out in a long time, if ever.”

Dr. Halpern said he had treated two types of injuries: traumatic injuries like twisted knees and sprained ankles from playing the games in confined spaces, and repetitive stress problems from playing too long. A common problem is the realization by players that a full swing is not required; a flick of the wrist is often enough to return a serve or bowl a strike. As several doctors pointed out, that is the exact motion - concentrating the force of a swing in the muscles of the forearm - that can cause tennis elbow.

The Wii system was built with warnings about prolonged use, and electronic prompts interrupt players regularly to urge them to take a break.

Dr. Halpern, a former assistant team physician for the Mets, compared some Wii injuries to those sustained by professional athletes.

“It’s like if you have a pitcher who has gone to spring training and hasn’t worked hard in the off-season and starts throwing too much and kind of overloads his shoulder or elbow,” he said.

Dr. Halpern said the shorter attention spans of younger children were probably preventing them from developing overuse injuries, describing their exposure to a variety of Wii games as “cross-training without even thinking about it.” Sore-shouldered and gimpy-kneed adults could be victims of their better focus, but also of their innate competitiveness.

Read the full story at nytimes.com.

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