Modern toys bring too many injuries

I walked into a neighborhood coffee joint last week, and stood in line behind a woman already ordering. She rattled off some drink using words like “no-foam” and “with wings.” I wasn’t sure if she was ordering coffee or chicken.

Writer’s Block

I walked into a neighborhood coffee joint last week, and stood in line behind a woman already ordering. She rattled off some drink using words like “no-foam” and “with wings.” I wasn’t sure if she was ordering coffee or chicken.

I stepped up next and ordered a black coffee. The barista scratched his head for a moment, and then said, “I think we can do that.” That’s when I noticed that his left eye was swollen shut and he had a large bandage over his cheek.

“What happened to you?” I asked. He replied sheepishly,” It’s a bowling injury.” Bowling? I thought the worst that could happen at a bowling alley would be dropping a ball onto a toe – or maybe getting a pinkie caught in the hand dryer.

“Oh, I wasn’t really bowling, “ the battered barista explained. “I was playing Wii with another guy and his remote flew out of his hand and hit me in the head.” It sounds like a likely story, but try Googling “Wii injuries.” This thing apparently happens all the time – and not just to baristas.

In case you don’t know about electronic game systems like Wii and Xbox and Game Boy – because perhaps you actually own a book or two – then you don’t know about the dangers of such devices.

In the old days, kids got sprained ankles, cracked ribs and chipped teeth playing actual sports like basketball, baseball and football. But with the advent of video games, now even relative couch potatoes are coming down with ailments like Gamer’s Thumb, Stylus Finger and Raver’s Wrist.

(Raver’s Wrist, by the way is an injury sustained while holding glow sticks during a rave, a fast-paced dance party. Experts say the best way to avoid Raver’s Wrist is to stick to waltzes.)

Doctors have a name for this stuff: repetitive stress disorder – caused by repeating a particular task or maneuver too often. It results in pain and numbness in the overstressed extremity. For example, try banging your head against a concrete wall over and over. Notice the pain in your head? That’s repetitive stress disorder.

Most of us have heard of Carpal Tunnel – although some people think it’s yet another plan for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct. In fact, it’s a syndrome that occurs when the median nerve is compressed in the wrist – like when someone spends a lot time banging away on a computer keyboard. It’s a sort of modern-day writer’s cramp.

While the injured barista got his battered face from a flying remote, many more people these days are getting injuries from the mere effort of playing the Wii itself. Since the games simulate everything from playing tennis to boxing, the movements required bring new demands on old muscles. I know this from my own experience. Just last week, I pulled my left love handle playing Wii golf.

But perhaps the most pernicious new repetitive stress injury comes from a device that even President Obama carries with him: The Blackberry.

Text messaging on one relies almost exclusively on the use of one’s thumbs, not fingers – and overuse can result in a malady called Blackberry Thumb, causing thumb-numbness. I don’t know about you, but I have difficulty saying ‘thumb-numbness’ even once – much less five times fast.

Doctors say that thumbs simply weren’t designed for rapid, repetitive movements like typing on a Blackberry. Thumbs were designed for giving a sign of approval – and for thumbing your nose at the establishment.

They are also occasionally used for sticking into pies and pulling out plums. Without the thumb, most authorities believe that finger-snapping would be nearly impossible – thus spoiling one of the best dance numbers in West Side Story.

In fact, humans are one of the few creatures on this planet to possess opposable thumbs, which gives us the ability to grip things.

However, thumbs cannot help us grasp difficult concepts. That’s the job of the index finger.

Opossums have opposable thumbs on their rear feet. That’s why you see so many of them as road kill, unwisely using those thumbs to hitchhike.

I recently read the advice of a professor whose title is Director of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory at Cornell University. Typing his title alone can give a person Blackberry Thumb.

So what is his advice to people using Blackberries? “Limit yourself to yes or no answers,” he says. So for example, if someone sends you a text message reading: “I’m stuck on a crossword puzzle. Can you think of an 11-letter word meaning “tummy?” – you should reply with “No.”

Or “Yes” if you come up with the word “breadbasket.”

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