Gaming Devices Cause Children Pain in Fingers, Wrists

Alice Goodman

June 02, 2011

June 2, 2011 (London, United Kingdom) Longer use of gaming devices, such as Xbox and Game Boy, and frequent texting on cell phones can cause wrist and finger pain in children, and it is more common in girls than boys, according to one of the first studies to quantify these effects in children.

The concern is that such hand pain might contribute to the development of adult rheumatoid arthritis, researchers warned here at the European League Against Rheumatism Congress 2011.

The use of Xbox and Game Boy caused more pain than the use of cell phones, and the more hours children spent on any electronic device, the more severe the pain.

"Our study shows the negative impact of playing computer games and using mobile phones on the joints of children as young as 9 years old, raising concern about the impact of modern technology later in life," said Yusuf Yazici, MD, from New York University Hospital for Joint Diseases in New York City. "Children who used these devices for prolonged times tended to have more pain regardless of which device they used."

The implication of these findings is that parents should set limits on the number of hours children play with gaming devices and send text messages, just as they might set limits on TV watching, Dr. Yazici said.

The study was based on responses to questionnaires administered to 257 youngsters, aged 9 to 15 years, at 2 schools in St. Louis, Missouri. About 55% of participants were female. The average age at school 1 was 11 years and at school 2 was 13 years (mean age for total sample, 12.7 years). Questions related to the type of device, the hours played, and the association of these factors with wrist and finger pain. At baseline, the only difference related to type of device was that more children at school 1 used Game Boy.

Pain reported with the use of Xbox and Game Boy was statistically higher than that reported with the use of the iPhone (P = .036 and P = .042, respectively). Pain was exacerbated with the number of hours of use, and the odds of reporting pain was 2-fold higher with every 1 hour of play (P < .001).

Responses to questions about texting on cell phones showed that females reported twice as much pain as males on a 10 cm visual analogue scale, and sex was the only independent variable associated with pain.

"Females tended to report more pain, regardless of which type of phone they used. The average number of text messages per day for females was 50," he added.

"These electronic devices were not designed for children, yet the children in our study averaged more than 2 hours of play per day. We don't know if pain will lead to arthritis, but it bears watching," Dr. Yazici said.

"We know that tendon injury is associated with repetitive motion, and loose tendons predispose to rheumatoid arthritis in joints," said Paul Emery, MD, from Leeds Teaching Hospital in the United Kingdom. "Long-term follow-up of children who play with these devices for hours each day will be crucial to determine what kind of injuries might develop."

Dr. Yazici has disclosed no relevant financial relationships. Dr. Emery reports receiving grant/research support from and serving as a consultant for Abbott, Merck, Pfizer, Roche, BMS.

European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) Congress 2011:Abstract OP0004. Presented May 5, 2011.


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