[Skip to Content]
Access to paid content on this site is currently suspended due to excessive activity being detected from your IP address 54.166.74.94. Please contact the publisher to request reinstatement.
[Skip to Content Landing]
Case Report/Case Series
June 2015

Tendon Rupture Associated With Excessive Smartphone Gaming

Author Affiliations
  • 1US Navy, San Diego, California
  • 2San Diego Hand Specialists, San Diego, California
  • 3Department of Ophthalmology, Naval Medical Center San Diego, San Diego, California
  • 4Department of Mental Health, Naval Medical Center San Diego, San Diego, California
JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(6):1048-1049. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.0753
Abstract

Importance  Excessive use of smartphones has been associated with injuries.

Observations  A 29-year-old, right hand–dominant man presented with chronic left thumb pain and loss of active motion from playing a Match-3 puzzle video game on his smartphone all day for 6 to 8 weeks. On physical examination, the left extensor pollicis longus tendon was not palpable, and no tendon motion was noted with wrist tenodesis. The thumb metacarpophalangeal range of motion was 10° to 80°, and thumb interphalangeal range of motion was 30° to 70°. The clinical diagnosis was rupture of the left extensor pollicis longus tendon. The patient subsequently underwent an extensor indicis proprius (1 of 2 tendons that extend the index finger) to extensor pollicis longus tendon transfer. During surgery, rupture of the extensor pollicis longus tendon was seen between the metacarpophalangeal and wrist joints.

Conclusions and Relevance  The potential for video games to reduce pain perception raises clinical and social considerations about excessive use, abuse, and addiction. Future research should consider whether pain reduction is a reason some individuals play video games excessively, manifest addiction, or sustain injuries associated with video gaming.

Introduction

Excessive use of smartphones has been associated with injuries, such as Blackberry thumb.1 We describe a patient with rupture of the extensor pollicis longus tendon associated with excessive video game play on his smartphone.

Report of a Case

A 29-year-old, right hand–dominant man presented with chronic left thumb pain and loss of active motion. Before the onset of symptoms, he reported playing a video game on his smartphone all day for 6 to 8 weeks. He played with his left hand while using his right hand for other tasks, stating that “playing was a kind of secondary thing, but it was constantly on.” When playing the video game, the patient reported that he felt no pain. He reported no injuries or prior operations to either hand. He denied a history of inflammatory arthritis, quinolone use, or other predisposing medical condition for tendon rupture.

On physical examination, the left extensor pollicis longus tendon was not palpable, and no tendon motion was noted with wrist tenodesis. The thumb metacarpophalangeal range of motion was 10° to 80°, and thumb interphalangeal range of motion was 30° to 70°. The findings on physical examination of the patient’s right hand were unremarkable. The clinical diagnosis was rupture of the left extensor pollicis longus tendon. A magnetic resonance imaging study of his left hand revealed tendon attenuation and rupture of the tendon (Figure). Radiographic studies of the wrist found no bone spurs or prior or current fractures. The patient subsequently underwent an extensor indicis proprius (1 of 2 tendons that extend the index finger) to extensor pollicis longus tendon transfer. During surgery, rupture of the extensor pollicis longus tendon was seen between the metacarpophalangeal and wrist joints.

Figure.
T1-Weighted Magnetic Resonance Images of the Left Hand
T1-Weighted Magnetic Resonance Images of the Left Hand

A, Coronal view; B, sagittal view. Arrowheads denote the extensor pollicis longus tendon above the full-thickness tear at the level of the base of the first metacarpal. There is retraction of the proximal tendon fibers. The abductor pollicis longus and extensor pollicis brevis tendons (not shown in these images) are intact. A indicates anterior; L, left; P, posterior; and R, right.

Discussion

Video games like that used by this patient allow players to connect with other players through the Internet via social media and smartphones. Players recruit others to play through social media; thus, these video games exhibit several elements that make them highly pleasurable: immersive environments, in-game achievements, and social play.2 Pleasure and excitement associated with video games involve physiologic arousal and stimulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, resulting in increased heart rate, blood pressure, and sympathetic tone.3

Video games suppress pain perception in pediatric patients and during burn treatments.4,5 Visual distraction and neuroendocrine hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal arousal provide a plausible explanation for why the patient did not feel pain from his injury. Without the expected physiologic negative pain feedback, excessive gaming may have led to tendon attenuation and subsequent attritional rupture of the tendon. Attritional rupture at the midtendon differs from high-energy ruptures that occur where the tendon is thinnest or between tendon and bone.

Although this is only a single case report, research might consider whether video games have a role in clinical pain management and as nonpharmacologic alternatives during uncomfortable or painful medical procedures. They may also have a role in reducing stress. It may be interesting to ascertain whether various games differ in their ability to reduce the perception of pain.

Conclusions

The potential for video games to reduce pain perception raises clinical and social considerations about excessive use, abuse, and addiction. Although not a recognized disorder, the editor of the American Journal of Psychiatry stated that Internet gaming disorder warranted further research and inclusion in the DSM-5.6 Research might also consider whether pain reduction is a reason some individuals play video games excessively, manifest addiction, or sustain injuries associated with video gaming.

Back to top
Article Information

Accepted for Publication: February 16, 2015.

Corresponding Author: Andrew P. Doan, MD, PhD, Departments of Ophthalmology and Mental Health, Naval Medical Center San Diego, San Diego, California, Bldg 2, 34800 Bob Wilson Dr, San Diego, CA 92134 (andy@andrew-doan.com).

Published Online: April 13, 2015. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.0753.

Author Contributions: Dr Doan had full access to all the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

Study concept and design: Horn, Bishop, Klam, Doan.

Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: Gilman, Cage, Horn, Doan.

Drafting of the manuscript: Gilman, Horn, Klam, Doan.

Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Cage, Bishop, Klam, Doan.

Administrative, technical, or material support: Gilman, Cage, Horn, Klam, Doan.

Study supervision: Cage, Klam, Doan.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the US Department of the Navy, US Department of Defense, or the US government.

Additional Contributions: James A. Cooper, MD, at Imaging Healthcare Specialists, San Diego, California, provided the magnetic resonance images and interpreted the magnetic resonance imaging results.

References
1.
O’Sullivan  B.  Beyond BlackBerry thumb. CMAJ. 2013;185(4):E185-E186.
PubMedArticle
2.
Yee  N.  Motivations for play in online games. Cyberpsychol Behav. 2006;9(6):772-775.
PubMedArticle
3.
Chaput  JP, Visby  T, Nyby  S,  et al.  Video game playing increases food intake in adolescents: a randomized crossover study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;93(6):1196-1203.
PubMedArticle
4.
Das  DA, Grimmer  KA, Sparnon  AL, McRae  SE, Thomas  BH.  The efficacy of playing a virtual reality game in modulating pain for children with acute burn injuries: a randomized controlled trial [ISRCTN87413556]. BMC Pediatr. 2005;5(1):1.
PubMedArticle
5.
Haik  J, Tessone  A, Nota  A,  et al.  The use of video capture virtual reality in burn rehabilitation: the possibilities. J Burn Care Res. 2006;27(2):195-197.
PubMedArticle
6.
DSM-5. Internet Gaming Disorder. 2013. http://www.dsm5.org/Documents/Internet%20Gaming%20Disorder%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf. Accessed October 27, 2014.
×