Friday, November 5, 2010

Raiding Physical Fitness

Often, when I speak of my raiding activities to other people, I compare it to a team sport.  While many cannot relate to the desire to have a dedicated time for playing a computer game, they can understand the commitment to a team.  And, like any team sport, there are some inherent physical hazards.  I, personally, have encountered repetitive motion injuries and vision difficulties.

If I was still working in the grill, doing catering, or if I was outside cutting grass all day, these problems may not have developed.  But I work at a computer, as many other WoW players do.

Repetitive motion injuries are injuries caused by, well, doing the same motion over and over again, particularly motions which place stress on certain joints.  Particularly well-known to computer users are carpal tunnel syndrome and tennis elbow.  (Which, yes, can be developed by computer users, even if they do not play tennis, as I do not.)

When I switched from a catering role to a desk job, I knew my potential to develop such injuries was greatly increased.  I started by developing my left-hand mousing skills in an effort to reduce the stress on my right arm.  When I am at work, I mouse with my left hand, and when I am at home playing, I mouse with my right.  I hoped this would prevent difficulties.

As time went on, I found I was developing tennis elbow in my right arm.  I adjusted my seat at home and purchased a hand support to help maintain the proper angles in my arm and wrist.  (I hate wrist rests: they make me feel like my circulation is being cut off.)  I also started wearing a tennis elbow brace, which helped relieve the symptoms.

But over time, I not only developed tennis elbow and some twinges threatening carpal tunnel syndrome in my right arm, I also developed them in my left.  (Great.)  Something had to be done.

That's when I stumbled on a blog (sorry, I can't find the post--too long ago!) wherein the blogger was saddened to learn she had carpal tunnel syndrome and would most likely have to stop playing WoW.  Commenters had mentioned they had tried using the NSD Powerball with good results.

I figured that if $50 could save my game, prevent me pain, and help to avoid potential surgery, it was worth it.  So I ordered one with bells and whistles (the counter and the lights--grin factor is worth something) and learned how to use it.  When I went out on break with my co-workers, I took my Powerball with me.  When I was good enough to be able to walk and spin it at the same time, I kept it going while walking to lunch or to meetings.  People started joking they could hear me coming, but I was seeing results.  The twinges in my wrists and elbows disappeared, and as an added bonus, my forearms and hand grip became stronger.  (Useful when I am trying to trim weeds in my yard with a string trimmer . . .)

My vision difficulties were exacerbated by my age, to be honest.  At about 40-41, according to my optometrist, most people start to have trouble with their near vision.  Well, my near vision is great, especially for my age, but because I am spending so much time focusing at the distance of my computers, I have developed trouble with my eye flexibility.  I can see near, and I can see far, but I can't switch from near to far quickly.  This may not seem much of a problem, until you are focusing on a navigation unit in a car, then have to look up and read street signs.  (It's also inconvenient if you like to knit and watch TV at the same time . . . the TV ends up becoming more like a radio show.)

My optometrist said this is a condition which frequently appears in computer users and prescribed some vision therapy exercises.  She sent me home carrying cards with letters calibrated to certain sizes.  The large card is attached to the wall, and I sit about ten feet away, holding a small one.  For five minutes, I look back and forth, focusing on a near letter, then focusing on a far letter.  This should be done about three times a day.  (Which means I have copied the cards, so I can have a set at home and a set at work.)

Because I was traveling on Tuesday, yesterday evening was the first time I tried this exercise.  This morning, my eyes were soooooo tired and sore, as if I spent the entire evening crying.  I kept wanting to just close them.

While it is annoying to have sore eyes, I am convinced this is an indication the exercise is actually doing something.  (No pain, no gain, right?)  When I repeated the exercise this morning, I found to my amazement that about half-way through my timer, I was able to see a marked change in the speed at which I was able to focus on the far letters.  This is very encouraging.  I have every hope that this, too, will prove to be effective and help postpone the day I need different sets of glasses, despite all the time I spend on the computer.

I hope that, by nipping these problems in the bud, I will be able to prevent problems which have the potential to force me to reduce computer time.  (Or put me completely out of action due to expensive surgery.)  If a few simple exercises can do it, there's no harm trying.

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