Virtual Fitness

Feb 14, 2009 | February 2009, Health

Virtual sports may lead to real injuries

By Annette M. Zaharoff, MD

As with any real sport, there is a risk of injury while playing virtual sports. In my last article I reviewed some of the possible benefits of “exergaming,” or playing video games that demand a certain amount of physical activity by those playing them. In this article, I will describe some of the injuries that may occur.

Among the types of injuries being reported, some are caused by repeated overuse, while others are caused by overexertion. There was a reported case of a 16-year-old boy in England who injured his knee while playing Nintendo Wii. He was seen in an emergency room for a swollen and painful knee. X-rays showed swelling and a boney fragment along the patella (kneecap), and a MRI confirmed evidence of the patella’s being dislocated, along with the fractured portion of the patella. He was successfully treated with surgery.
In another case, acute “Wii-itis” was reported in the upper extremity and was reportedly caused by prolonged participation in a physically interactive virtual video game. Using an MRI scan, abnormalities in several shoulder muscles and the upper arm were identified. Non-surgical treatment was used to successfully treat the injuries.

As more and more people play Wii Fit games, it is more likely that overuse injuries like these will become more common. However, Wii-itis shouldn’t be as common as injuries seen by participating in actual sports. In order to avoid virtual fitness game injuries, it is probably a good idea to limit playing time to a couple of hours at any given time. Players should also take breaks between sessions. If soreness and pain develop in any area, modifying how much one plays and icing afterward is helpful. Stretching prior to playing is also a good idea in order to avoid overuse injuries.

As with any injury, you should consult your sports medicine physician if you have specific questions. Happy exergaming!

Dr. Annette Zaharoff is a sports medicine physician specializing in the non-surgical evaluation and treatment of injuries. She maintains a private practice in San Antonio and may be reached by calling her office at (210) 616-0646 or visiting her Web site

South Texas Fitness & Health