Gaming can be a blast, but long hours in front of the TV and repetitive motions (like hitting the "fire" button) can be dangerous and lead to injury. Doctors are even classifying new kinds of video game-related injuries with names like "Nintendo Thumb". How can you reduce your risk of contracting these problems? It's easy - and it just requires a combination of proper usage and the right hardware. Read on to learn more about the ergonomics of gaming devices.

Take Breaks - Probably the single most important concept, taking frequent breaks allows muscles to rest and recover. Kids often fall into the "video game trance", not realizing that they've spent (quite literally) hours in front of the monitor or TV screen.

Hold the gamepad (or joystick) lightly - Okay, the action's exciting - but gripping the gamepad too hard can cause discomfort in their wrists and fingers. And try not to hit the keys too hard...

Utilize any "programmable" features of the gamepad - Since repetitive actions (like pushing the "fire" button) can lead to repetitive stress injuries, check to see if the gamepad can be programmed to group common functions or key sequences. If your current gamepad doesn't offer this feature, consider upgrading to a gamepad that does.

Change positions - Occasionally changing position will allow overused muscles to rest and others to assume their workload.

Watch your posture - Holding the gamepad near your chest may be a natural reaction when the gameplay gets going, but keeping it closer to your lap means less work against gravity and less stress on your muscles. Try to keep those wrists in a neutral (i.e. unbent) position, and make sure you're not hunching forward towards the screen. Keep good posture.

If you use a force-feedback gamepad, take more frequent breaks - Force-feedback joysticks are an exciting new trend in gaming devices; they allow the gamepad to vibrate according to the action in the game. (For instance, a car that hops a curve and drives onto grass may cause the gamepad to vibrate to simulate offroading). However, increased vibrations can cause increased risk of injury, so make sure to rest a little more often than you would with traditional gamepads.

If you use voice-recognition software in your gameplay, rest your voice - Some games allow you to speak commands ("increase throttle"), adding a new dimension of realism to your game. However, vocal chords are muscles too, and can become worn out or tired through overuse. If you use speech recognition in your game, be sure to read HealthyComputing's™ article on "Tips for Using Voice Recognition Software".

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