When you’re a pitcher in Major League Baseball, you have one responsibility: protect your pitching arm. Unfortunately, Boston Red Sox pitcher David Price failed to do even that, somehow winding up with a diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome on Wednesday after complaining twice about numbness in his pitching hand. Because Price has been very vocal about how much he loves ‘Fortnite’, there is some speculation that gaming is to blame.
Following the diagnosis, many outlets, including the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, and MassLive, posed some version of the same question: Is David Price’s carpal tunnel related to playing ‘Fortnite’? The short answer is that it could be, but it could also be the result of a number of other activities. Red Sox manager Alex Cora seems to understand this. In a pregame press conference on Wednesday, he said that he doesn’t think ‘Fortnite’ is to blame but that he’d discuss it with Price when they figure out a recovery plan.
“There’s a lot of teams playing Fortnite,” he said. “But we’ll talk about it.”
The truth is that carpal tunnel syndrome is not easy to diagnose. People usually get checked out after experiencing pain, numbness, and weakness in their hands and wrists. This is caused when the median nerve, which runs down the forearm toward the hand inside a special tube called — you guessed it — the carpal tunnel gets squeezed too tightly. This can happen for a number of reasons.
As the U.S. National Institutes of Health puts it: “Often, no single cause can be identified.” Culprits include wrist injuries, arthritis, unregulated pituitary or thyroid glands, fluid retention, the use of vibrating hand tools, and, crucially, “work stress.”
Work stress refers to all the physical actions people do consistently while working (or any other activity that takes up as much time as work): Most of the time, this refers to typing, lifting, sewing, cleaning, packing, and a number of other repetitive tasks, but it can certainly mean pitching for a baseball player, or playing video games for a baseball player who loves ‘Fortnite’.
There’s not a ton of research on whether video games, specifically, can cause carpal tunnel, likely because the causes of any one patient’s syndrome are “multifactorial,” as Loyola Marymount University researchers put it. “A specific cause is not known, but it is most likely any condition that generates increased pressure in the carpal tunnel and results in the obstruction of venous outflow,” they write. In their article, they note that symptoms of carpal tunnel tend to worsen over time, becoming more noticeable as people do repetitive activities like “drawing, typing, or playing video games.”
It’s not entirely clear how repetitiveness affects the carpal tunnel itself; some experts think it leads to swelling in the tendons around it, while others think that holding the wrist in certain positions for long periods of time irritate the tunnel. Both might apply to the small study published in 2017 in Muscle and Nerve, which warned that “Caution may be warranted when using handheld electronic devices” after studying wrist pain in university students who used the devices for over five hours a day.
On ZocDoc, at least one certified physician has said: “It is within reason to think that it is possible to develop carpal tunnel as a result of the repetitive movements associated with playing video games frequently and for long periods of time.” But, again, every patient is different, and the causes are often myriad. It’s not likely Price’s physicians will narrow the cause of his carpal tunnel to a single activity.
He returns to Yankee Stadium on Thursday, after sitting out Wednesday’s game, which he was supposed to start. Whether he’s been able to resist playing ‘Fortnite’ in the meantime remains to be seen.