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Nintendo Wii Fit Can Cause Injuries


Some people who play Nintendo Wii Fit virtual games and sports are suffering not-so-virtual injuries. Doctors report a variety of injuries for both adults and children associated with the very popular video game.

Since the release of the Nintendo Wii Fit in May 2008, doctors in the United States and abroad have seen injuries such as muscle strains, rotator cuff shoulder damage, and other upper body problems, according to Earl Feng, an orthopedic surgeon who practices in Mesa and Tempe, Arizona. In an Arizona Republic article, he reported that such problems are seen “periodically with overuse.” In the same article, Mark Klion, a sports medicine specialist with the Mount Sinai School of Medicine Department of Orthopaedics noted that he has played Wii Fit with his three children, all younger than 10 years old. “I’ve told people, this will never replace physical exercise both psychologically and physically,” he stated, adding that “We’ve also treated patients with what we deem are Wii injuries.”

Nintendo offers health and safety guidelines in a manual that is provided with the Wii Fit. There is also an in-game trainer that gives demonstrations of each sport or activity before it is performed. People who play Wii Fit use a handheld remote control device that sends signals to a video screen as players mimic the motions of the game on the computer. Players who do not properly hold on to the device have been known to throw it across the room, hitting people and breaking items, including their video screen.

Most injuries occur because players do not warm up or stretch before playing the virtual sports or they “go at” the games too vigorously, causing muscle strains and other injuries. Bowling, for example, requires players to roll a ball down a virtual alley by swinging the controller and pressing a button at just the right time, while baseball involves swinging the controller to simulate the movement of a baseball bat. Some players swing too hard and/or continue playing the game too long, resulting in overuse injuries. The virtual boxing game is associated with upper back muscle strain.

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Dr. Klion noted that both parents and children who are new to exercise and to Wii Fit should begin with short sessions to avoid injury. He gave an example of the tennis game, in which the ball is thrown rapidly at players. Individuals who are relatively inactive and who play for an hour may hit 1,000 balls in one session. “You can, in rapid fire, get a repetitive motion injury in the shoulder, elbow, and wrist injuries,” he said.

In a study conducted at Western Reserve Care System/Northwestern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, investigators looked at self-reported Wii related injuries. Of the 39 injuries reported, 46 percent occurred while individuals played tennis. Overall, the researchers identified 14 distinct injury patterns associated with playing Wii, with hand lacerations accounting for 44 percent of the total injuries. Other studies have noted dislocated knees (Wii knee), ruptured tendons, and shoulder injuries (Wii shoulder).

In a New York Times (April 2009) article, Denise Kaigler, a vice president for marketing and corporate affairs at Nintendo of America, was quoted as saying “as consumers adapt to this new style of play, there have been a few reports of minor incidents during overly enthusiastic game play.” She noted that “people playing the Wii system should pace themselves and not overdo it.”

To help avoid injuries, Ms. Kaigler’s warning should be heeded. A few more words of caution for consumers who have or who are thinking about buying the Nintendo Wii Fit: Make sure you allow plenty of unobstructed room to play the games, follow the game instructions carefully, and monitor your children’s playtime. But adults need to beware as well. Dr. Halpern, a former assistant team physician for the Mets, noted in the New York Times that younger children have short attention spans, which probably prevents them from developing overuse injuries. Adults, however, tend to be competitive. “When you start a new exercise program,” noted Dr. Susan Joy, the director of the Cleveland Clinic’s women’s sports health program, “it’s good to remember that you’re not a kid.”

Arizona Republic, June 4, 2008
FoxNews.com, December 23, 2008
New York Times, April 20, 2009
Sparks D et al. Informatics in Primary Care 2009 17(1): 55-57