Most of us don’t think twice about slipping on our headsets and entering virtual worlds without physically preparing our bodies for an experience where we’ll bend, twist, duck, jump, etc. In reality, this might not be such a wise idea.
Like any sport or strenuous activity, esports involves injuries. Traditionally, these injuries are caused by repetitive motions of fingers, hands, and wrists. There is also stress on the shoulders, back muscles and spine from sitting for long hours in front of a keyboard. With activities in VR, we’ve added a greater physical component while simultaneously allowing ourselves to be completely immersed in a virtual environment. The result is that while players have removed some of the sedentary aspects of computer games, we still have the risk of overuse injuries and the nature of VR also increases the risk of pulled muscles, torn tendons, even broken bones.
Fingers, Hands, Wrists, Forearms
As an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Levi Harrison of Glendale, California treats all sorts of sports injuries, including repetitive stress injuries incurred by gamers. He has a YouTube channel where he addresses common physical problems gamers face and what they can do to prevent injury. While his advice is primarily directed at console or PC gamers, VR enthusiasts are making similar repetitive motions, sometimes with multiple actions (translation: finger clicks) per second. Check out this video for some simple exercises to counter the repetitive stress you’re placing on fingers, hands, wrists, and forearms.
In addition to the traditional injuries incurred by gamers, people who play VR games have ramped up the athletic component of gaming so that injuries typically seen only in sports like soccer or tennis are now cropping up in the VR world.
Echo Arena, a multiplayer game from Ready at Dawn Studios, is one of the most physically demanding games available in VR. Players must duck, jump, dodge, twist, turn, and make sudden motions to catch or throw a disc as they work it across a zero-G arena with the objective of scoring points in the opponent team’s goal. Recently I compiled a video highlighting some of the injuries players had endured as they tried to outplay their opponents.
While most of these injuries could have been avoided by taking some simple steps to ensure a safe play area, there are other stories that didn’t translate as well for photographs. There have been torn tendons, strained necks, and pulled muscles. These injuries certainly aren’t unique to Echo Arena. We are already seeing typical sports injuries in virtual reality. When some people hear this, they quizzically ask how that could be possible when you’re playing a “virtual” game.
The fact is that while Vsports might involve virtual games, our bodies are still very much in the physical reality. Aside from taking some common sense steps to ensure a clear play area and staying within boundaries of a guardian type system, we can also take steps to avoid injury by faithfully incorporating the following aspects into our VR fitness routine: a warm-up period, hydration, and a cool down period.
The warm-up period should be the first stage of any physical activity. Light cardiovascular exercises slowly increase your circulation and heart rate while stretching prepares your muscles for movements you’ll make during more vigorous activity. When you perform a warm up and gently increase your level of activity, you allow your muscles to warm up gradually and prepare your body for the workout. This will help prevent injuries.
When you’re planning for a workout in VR, some people might simply prefer to do stretches or light cardio prior to putting on the headset. Consider the following:
For those who prefer a VR-centered warm up, Tim Donahey mentions some great lower intensity game options in an article entitled How to Create a Balanced VR Fitness Routine. You can easily play these games as part of your warm-up period. Also, while the menus are loading or if there is downtime in the game, that’s an excellent opportunity to do a little stretching, using the above illustrations as a guide.
Whether you do your warm up before or after you put on the headset, the increased blood flow will loosen your joints and make your muscles more pliable. This will reduce the chance of injury to your body when you make the sudden movements associated with physical activity.
At the VR Challenger League Season 1 Grand Finals during IEM (Intel Extreme Masters) in Katowice, Poland, VR esports players engaged in exhausting, physically demanding competitions against the best players and teams in the world. Not only were they demonstrating a high level of athleticism, but they were performing demanding physical activity while strapped in a headset. It was essential that they remain hydrated.
While most people are simply interested in a good workout rather than being the next big name in esports, it’s still important to stay hydrated. Whether you workout for 30 minutes or a few hours, keep the following in mind.
- Don’t wait until you’re thirsty. It’s likely that you’re already becoming dehydrated if you feel thirsty. This is your body’s way of telling you that you waited too long.
- Hydrate before you exercise! Start building up your hydration status at least two hours before you begin your workout.
- Hydrate with electrolytes or sports drinks. Electrolytes help our cells communicate with each other and perform essential functions such as carrying electrical charges. For particularly intense or long workouts, don’t simply rely on water.
- Take a break mid-workout to sip on some sports drinks, water with added electrolytes or even something like coconut water, which contains natural electrolytes.
- Add a snack. If your workouts are more than an hour, consider adding an easy-to-eat fruit like a banana during your mid-workout break. You won’t even have to remove your headset and you’ll have the benefit of added electrolytes. Just don’t forget to chase it down with water.
While the warm-up period should be the first stage of physical activity, a cool down period should be your last. During the cool down, you gradually lower your body temperature, reduce your heart rate and allow muscles to return to a relaxed state. The cooldown period is essential to avoid complications like venous pooling in lower extremities.
While it’s awesome that we’ve created a whole new realm of athleticism, we need to approach our workouts with some common sense and preparation. Even the casual gamer can benefit from these tips, but if we are to use VR for athletics and fitness, it’s essential that we prepare our bodies through a warm-up and stretching period, maintain good habits while playing and finish our workouts with a proper cool down period.