Most often, gaming feels great. It’s fun, exhilarating, and energizing, among many other good things. But when you game enough, it can also start to cause pain in various parts of your body. Among regular gamers, the most common areas of pain and injury are hands, wrists, arms, back and neck. In an earlier post, we shared five tips to help prevent wrist pain while gaming. In this post, we turn our attention to another area: the back and neck.
To help over half of all gamers, who say they experience back and neck pain regularly, here are 5 top tips to prevent pain and long-term damage to your back and neck while gaming.
1. Take breaks
In the same way that it’s important for people who work at desks for multiple hours a day to take regular breaks, it’s important for gamers to do the same. Very, very important. For every 60 minutes of gameplay, you should be taking a 5 to 10-minute break at minimum. Get up, stretch, move around, breathe, release the tension, and give your body (and brain and eyes) a reset.
2. Maintain good posture and ergonomic device placement
Back and neck pain for gamers is typically the result of poor posture and device placement. If you don’t have your devices, surfaces, and seating set up ergonomically, it’s very easy for posture to go downhill quickly: slumping down in your chair, compressing your lower back, hunched forward resting your elbows on your knees, jutting your chin forward, or craning your neck. These positions are unnatural, and it strains our muscles to hold them, causing great tightness and a build-up of tension.
To avoid that and have proper alignment while playing, sit with your feet flat on the floor with your back upright. There are special chairs with lumbar support built in, which we recommend getting if possible. Place your monitor or screen at eye level (a good stack of books works wonders) so that you’re not craning your neck too far up or tilting it too far down for hours. Lastly, have your tabletop, keyboard, and/or controller set a level where your forearms can still slope slightly downwards. This keeps the blood flowing from top to bottom as it should.
3. Do strengthening exercises for your back, shoulders, and core
Outside of getting your setup more ergonomically inclined, though, what really will help is strengthening your core, back, and shoulder muscles! When sitting for too long, we usually stop engaging our core muscles, but if we strengthen those muscles, it’s easier to maintain engagement and keep our posture and alignment strong. These are the muscle groups you should look to strengthen first to help alleviate and prevent pain in your back and neck.
- Core: Your abs, obliques, upper back, lower back, and chest muscles, which keep you supported and upright. There are many different exercises for core-strengthening, but some we recommend are Pilates, yoga, boxing, dancing and interval training. Even if it’s only a few exercises, like planks or teasers or oblique crunches, whatever you choose, try to do some core strengthening every day. (Even better if it’s before you jump into some gaming.)
- Mid and lower back: To engage those muscles while you play, try sitting on a fitness balance ball, which forces you to engage your back trunk and back muscles without thinking about it. Key exercises to further ramp up for this area are going to be more plank variations, glute bridges, supermans, leg lifts while lying down or in plank, and some lower back twists (look to yoga again for those). These lists from SELF and Healthline provide good tutorials for some of these exercises.
- Shoulders and chest: Tension in our shoulders—common in gaming—emanates to our neck and chest, causing issues in multiple areas, including with posture if not mitigated. Strengthen those shoulder and chest muscles with planks, push-ups, Pilates, yoga, boxing or weight training, to name a few.
4. Stretch your back, shoulders, chest, and neck regularly
Without release, building tension in our muscles compounds itself. So, for example, when sitting with our shoulders hunched, even slightly, our upper back muscles become overextended and our chest muscles grow limited in range. Fight that progression by stretching frequently and keeping those muscles elastic. For the back and neck area specifically, start adding these stretches into your rotation:
- Head and neck roll: Rolling your head slowly around its axis to stretch the neck on all sides.
- Side neck stretch: Tip your head to one side, reaching your ear down towards one shoulder. Place the hand on that side of your body on top of your ear to aid and slightly increase the stretch. Extend the other arm down at your side. Repeat on the other side.
- Roll down: Standing straight with equal weight on both feet, starting with the tip of your head, roll slowly down, going vertebrae by vertebrae until you are fully stretched over your legs. Bend and straighten your knees a few times, then slowly roll back up.
- Bridge or wheel stretch: Lying on your back, place your feet on the ground underneath your knees, and push up with your hips towards the ceiling. If you have the back flexibility to do so, place your hands on either side of your head and push up into full bridge (or wheel pose, for you yogis out there).
- Yoga ball stretch: Sitting at the “edge” of a yoga or Pilates ball, carefully roll yourself back, opening your arms wide to open up your chest muscles. Be sure to keep both feet planted firmly on the ground.
- Deltoid stretch: With your arms straight, clasp your hands behind your back. Raise your hands behind you and fold over your legs, letting the weight of your arms and hands stretch the front of your shoulder muscles.
5. Stop when it hurts
We know it’s hard to stop doing something that brings you joy and happiness—but pain is not exactly happy, and continuing to play through it will only result in worsening symptoms and increased potential long-term damage. It’s super important to listen when your body sends you pain signals, and then stop playing. After all, they’re signals for a reason. The sports standard of RICE—rest, ice, compression, and elevation—is a good rule of thumb when there’s inflammation, but with the back and neck, various elements of RICE can be hard to do. Resting is your best bet.
Additionally, if you have recurring pain and have not yet gotten it checked out, we advocate for getting it looked at by a physician or physical therapist. Physical therapy is often the best way to come back from injury, retrain our muscles to work healthily, and help prevent injury in the future. Speaking of physical therapists, Bob & Brad share their take and some more tips in this video here.
What exercises or tips have helped you prevent or work through back and neck pain?