Pain, thy name is Qwerty.
Discomfort in the 21st century comes in different forms. For some, it's the Blackberry's tiny keyboard. For others, it's the porcelain-white Wiimote. Tales of technology-related injuries (damaged thumbs, tendons, nerves, and joints) have become a quirk of modern times, and it's easy to figure out how they occur.
Spiro Antoniades, M.D., is a surgeon with the Maryland Spine Center and former assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (and coincidentally, the spouse of Baltimore contributor Christina Antoniades). "With the Wii and the Blackberry, they fall into the category of repetitive injuries," says Dr. Antoniades. "The best example is a grocery store cashier or stock boy. They will do the same thing with their hand and arm thousands of times every week, and as a result tendons and joints get inflamed. The body isn't created to do unnatural movements so frequently."
Dr. Antoniades has seen these injuries firsthand. In fact, his administrative assistant developed bursitis of the elbow from playing the Wii tennis game. "We tell her she was injured almost playing tennis," he says with a laugh.
So why didn't anyone get bursitis playing Donkey Kong? The answer is simple: The Wii forces its participants—largely a population of inactive, ironic T-shirt-wearing gamers—to mimic professional athletes. "In these games, you're recreating an athlete's movements," Dr. Antoniades says. "The problem is there's no ground reaction force, which is what you get when you actually strike something or push or pull someone as you do in real sports. With the Wii, what you're doing is a messy version of tai chi."
The website wiihaveaproblem.com is a blog where users report the damage they've incurred and inflicted on others. "Last night I was playing tennis on my Wii," one blogger writes. "My girlfriend was sitting on the sofa behind me . . . I went to take a swing for a long forehand shot and I hear a massive bang. The corner of the remote smacked her in the face, right next to her eye. When she stopped covering her face, I saw all the blood and had to rush her to the hospital."
When asked if using handhelds has any positive effects, other than perhaps improving hand-eye coordination or reaction time, Dr. Antoniades flatly says no. However, he jokingly describes the Nintendo Wii as "a gateway drug to exercise." It can "encourage people to stand up, move their limbs, and be active." It's no coincidence that along with many games that burn zero calories, like Ninjabread Man and Hell's Kitchen: The Video Game, there's Wii Fit, a $90 training system that includes yoga, balance games, strength training, and aerobics.
While some physicians are treating repetitive injuries from games like Wii, other doctors are actually prescribing the Wii for patients. Dr. Barry Waldman of OrthoMaryland, an orthopaedic clinic with offices in Baltimore, Towson, and Owings Mills, told one of his patients, a long-time sufferer of arthritis, to use the Wii several times a week to work the joints and increase flexibility—in the process, the patient became an expert Wii bowler.