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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Feature: Pathology of Taiko

Just like playing every other videogame, there's always the risk of getting hurt when playing Taiko. Everyone knows the typical warning messages you get on instruction manuals of games, the one about epilepsy and the one about taking a break from playing every hour or so, and not hitting things with your Wiimotes (and the latest one being 3D effects fry children's eyes inside out). Let's be honest- I know none of us give a flying bachi about them, the warnings are just there so developers don't get sued when accidents happen. But sometimes they do happen.

The warnings for Taiko aren't much different from anything else. You still need to rest after playing for a long time (especially if you're an arcade jammer!) and being an epileptic naturally means you're averse to all flashing lights. Regular breaks aren't just for keeping yourself from getting hurt though- after a few rounds and a lot of panting and gasping and sweating later, you'll be wishing you took a break earlier!

Note: This is not a medical article and should not be treated as such. This is just for casual discussion.


The smallest and most minor lesion you can get while playing, and one which I bet everyone would know very well by now. A blister is an outpocketing of fluid between the outer layers of the epidermis (skin), caused by burns, friction, or contact with corrosive/toxic chemicals, like acids, but most commonly by friction. Think of the bubble in your skin as a protective sheet covering the injured part right underneath trying to cool it down and let it repair.

Taiko causes friction blisters quite often, and it's not just arcade, play and rub your hands on a controller hard enough with complete disregard to the welfare of your thumbs and you can get blisters too. A very common complaint for people who have just begun to switch over to arcade and don't have sticks of their own. You know what I really hate about the arcade sticks aside from how heavy they are? The rubber coating! Sure it cushions the impact on your fingers just fine but it's so easy to rub against them with your fingers a little too hard. And it feels uncomfortable. If there's no rubber coating, a badly-smoothed wooden surface of the sticks also carry risks of friction injury, like the infamous Prickly Pear sticks.

Do you remember your first arcade blister if you had any? Mine was during the early days when I could only clear up to Natsu Matsuri on Oni. Something possessed me and I went all the way up to Koibumi 2000. God I regret ever doing that. The second time was with a rubber coating, while Kita Saitama 2000 still looked down at me cackling away. I failed and found two blisters on my left thumb, one on my right, and one more below the little finger of my left hand. I had to wear gloves to play Taiko for the next two weeks! Once you get the hang of it blisters will be a thing of the past (but I got one on my left thumb just last week orz)

Common sites for friction injury and blisters

If you feel a rubbing/slight burning sensation in your hand followed by a bit of swelling while playing the arcade, stop and give your fingers a rest. They'll progress to form the protective bubble anyway, but you don't want to pop them by playing even harder; it may lead to worse things like bleeding. Avoid the use of the affected part while playing Taiko, whenever possible. Blisters are not typically painful, but they are annoying. They flatten out after about 3 days but the fluid only completely goes away after more than a week of rest. From my experience, anyway.


Not exactly an injury per se, a corn or callus is a hyperkeratinized area of skin, usually either on the hands or the feet. Okay, 'hyperkeratinized' is a big word so let me break it down. The outer layer of our skin is lined by dead cells with a protein called keratin. This makes it tough and durable, though not durable enough to withstand an awful lot of friction, which is why for the areas of skin which are rubbed over the most, our bodies respond by producing more keratin, making the skin thicker. Ever taken a look at the soles of your feet before? Chances are there will be at least one corn there because of your feet and your shoes rubbing against each other while you walk.

Taiko players tend to have corns on their hands, usually on the palm before the fingers and right at the thumb joints, but it depends on how you grip the drum sticks when you play and which area of your hands are subject to the highest pressure. They're not that unusual either; corns on the hands occur in almost every activity/sport that involves extensive usage of your hands, like tennis, and playing the violin. Most sportsmen and women have them after extensive play time. But, if there is too much friction occurring too fast for the body to produce a corn, it becomes a blister instead (see above). Corns form more slowly and gradually.

They're not painful, and definitely not harmful except in extreme cases, which are very rare, so it's really nothing to worry about. If they get annoying you can opt to have them removed with salicylic acid preparations (ask your doctor) or clip them off with special clippers (don't peel them off with your hands or a pair of scissors, it causes unnecessary pain and bleeding and the corn will just grow back anyway). The other way would be to avoid the source of friction for a long period of time. I have two small ones on my thumbs, and they've been there for years.


Okay maybe not but I decided to give this a go anyway since I remember the times where people complained that swinging a Wii Remote around gives you the tennis elbow because most gamers didn't like to move about while playing and that they were DOIN IT WRONG. A tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis in medical-ese) is sharp pains in, guess where? Yep, there. Also in a real case of LE, since the inflammation/tendon injury is in the elbow where many of the other muscles of the wrist and fingers are, moving your wrist and fingers cause shooting bouts of pain as well. Quite a worrying condition.

Why were the early Wii gamers DOIN IT WRONG? They used movements their body was unconditioned to, and very overexaggerated, excited, energetic movements, which is the basis of tennis elbow (though the exact mechanism of why the condition actually develops is under scrutiny). Tennis players have already been trained to move their arms and body in such a way that they won't strain their elbows while playing. And so should you; if you think you can't handle a song on the arcade, don't do it. Do warm-ups first or practice on easier songs before moving up to the hard stuff. Even if the resulting elbow ache you get isn't tennis elbow, it'll hurt for a few days, and that never feels nice.

Me? Nothing much yet except for muscle pains if I haven't been to an arcade for a month or so.


*decided not to find a picture of it lest someone faint on this site*

Bleeding while playing arcade Taiko is uncommon, but when it does happen it's usually because the skin overlying the fingers have been cut in some way while holding the arcade sticks, or bursting a blister that has not healed yet.The main culprits are of course bad quality arcade sticks with splinters, or have rough, uneven surfaces, and the grip of the player on the stick also plays a large factor, especially for newbies who usually hold it tightly without leaving much space in between their hands and the stick. I have a friend who can testify to that as well after failing Koibumi 2000. Bleeding occurs where the skin of the palm is at its most fragile, like between fingers and at the joints of fingers and it can be quite messy as the palm has lots of tiny blood vessels.

It's easy to avoid bleeding, just stick to the cardinal rule and play it safe on the arcade if you're new to it, and change your grip. Hold it loosely, but firmly, and remember, speed over power. Cover your hands if you want to, with a cloth or gloves or something, but take them off once you get used to playing! If you feel any pain or see bleeding on your palm while playing, it's common sense to stop immediately and take a rest, a week or more if you have to. No number of epic Taiko plays are more important than your own well-being! If you're a spectator, don't stand too close to the player (about half a meter away should be fine).

There's not much else I can add to this feature, and many of the injuries seen here can also be sustained on other work-heavy rhythm games (twisted ankles while playing DDR? Yep). Maybe those instruction manual warnings aren't just for show after all.


  1. Let me post my own word of warning:



    I am currently recovering from Carpal Tunnel of my right wrist, which was caused by excessive play of Taiko on a Wii tatacon. What started as a weary strain after extended bouts of taiko, soon became a constant pain through my hand, wrist and forearm. Even after months of rest and refraining from playing taiko, pain and numbness was still a daily occurence.

    I have since begun a weight and stretching routine to strengthen my wrists, which has been working wonders. I suggest you all begin a similar exercise routine if you wish to avoid such an injury. It may even help you play better.

    Carpal Tunnel is a serious injury that can quickly escalate into a life long ailment.
    SO I WARN YOU: should you feel any pain or numbness along your hand, wrist or arm, as a result of playing taiko, PLEASE STOP. Treat it with serious concern, and learn from my mistake.

    This user's videos offer the best advice I've found and I've been following it to this day. Please watch this and subsequent videos.


  2. ^ Ah geez I totally forgot about Carpal Tunnel. That was nice, thanks!

  3. And hope you get better soon!

  4. Except for a few blisters and muscle pains...I don't have much injuries when playing taiko...or thats only because I only play 7/8 star songs on the arcade lol

  5. Yeah! Why a player must exagerate all times with hi-starred songs every time? 7-8 star also fits with my arcade style; I have the Wii/PSP/Ds games if I want to go mad, even if I usually sweat a lot just for holding a wiimote xD

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  7. BTW my arcade is taiko 6..so there are not many very hard songs we have now...^^"

  8. My CTS is improving. I just moved to Japan (working as an ALT) and not playing taiko when it's so readily available here is so hard :`(

    Soon though, I'll be back in the game, in time for new arcade version.

  9. @N5S: It's not showing off- it's tailoring the level of the song to the skill level of the player. If you can handle 10* songs on the arcade without breaking a sweat, there's no reason why you shouldn't play those. (take breaks in between, of course, and warm-up before starting)

  10. This injuries are so memorable.
    I used to experience them when I start playing Taiko no Tatsujin before.

  11. ....OK I'll say this now

    Anyone on the osu!Taiko thread will know that one time I said that I was suffering a physical injury in my right hand?

    I'm unsure myself as the symptoms aren't complete, but the evidence I have says that I might have carpal tunnel. My right thumb in particular.............

    This is why you don't see me being that ambitious too much in Taiko anymore: I'm worried like shit.

  12. I still go out of my way to try and FC god songs (on a keyboard/controller) occasionally though. Mata Saitama is the only one I haven't done yet. And when I do FC it I probably won't touch it for a loooooong time.

  13. Also can someone please remove the leftmost picture of the Corns/Caluses part, it's just a bit too much...

  14. I once had tingling in my 4th and last fingers of my right hand and was worried it was carpal tunnel as well....then I found out CTS commonly affects the first three fingers only. 4 and 5 are caused by...ulnar nerve compression.

    *cue rage face*

  15. The Corns picture was from Wikipedia. I know they're a bit exaggerated :P

  16. "4 and 5 are caused by...ulnar nerve compression."

    Oh god that was so troll.

  17. Medical terms! @_@

    I've only experienced blisters, I guess I was lucky I conditioned to the arcade quickly. I play at least once every 2 weeks on the arcade, and I do warm-up songs before the godly ones (you gotta think about conserving the money too, failing the 1st song is just dangerous to your pockets) so I guess I don't get the serious injuries.

    (and maybe itchy itchy hands after playing on wii for 2-3 hours straight. But that's cos I play on a wiimote with the jacket on)

    I say for hygienic purposes after playing on the arcade with the arcade sticks: wash your hands. Think of the many sweaty palms that have played on it before!

  18. I use my own sticks so no trouble there lol :P But yeah, it's a good move to wash your hands after using the supplied ones.

  19. I always seem to forget though :P

  20. OH MY GOD i still remember that time when i was still a moderate taiko player... and then suddenly i just wanted to try kurenai, and not only failed, it gave me a pain blister on my right thumb :O and i regret it >.<