Your shoulder consists of several joints
that connect to various tendons and muscles. The complexity of your shoulder is
what enables you to do so much with your arms. It’s also the reason why many
people suffer from shoulder pain and injuries.
Chronic shoulder pain often stems from
prolonged, repetitive, or awkward movements. This type of pain is sometimes
referred to as repetitive strain
injury (RSI) or
cumulative trauma disorder.
RSIs are frequently caused by tasks at
work. Small, repetitive activities can strain the muscles and tendons of your
upper body, including your shoulder. Activities that can cause RSI include:
- using a computer mouse
- swiping items at a
supermarket checkout stand
- carrying or lifting
- using industrial
to lower your risk of developing RSIs and shoulder pain at work.
Shoulder pain often develops gradually
rather than all at once. It may be hard to pinpoint the exact cause of your
pain. Potential sources of work-related shoulder pain include:
- awkward postures
- working with your arms
above shoulder level
- force or pressure on
your shoulder, even in small amounts
- mechanical contact
stress, such as that caused by resting your wrists on a hard desk
edge while typing
- static loading, when your
muscles have to hold your body in one position for a long time
- hand-arm vibration,
such as vibration caused by a power tool
- full body vibration,
such as vibration caused by driving over rough roads
- extreme temperature
Physically intensive jobs aren’t the only ones that can
cause shoulder pain and injuries. Office workers also have a high risk of
developing them. A large number of RSIs are computer related. “Sedentary work
environments and work habits can weaken your muscles and set the stage for
pain,” explains Micke Brown, a long-time nurse specializing in pain management.
To minimize neck and shoulder pain, it may
- develop better posture
- optimize your workspace
or work environment
- reduce the stress that your
daily routines put on your body
Ergonomics is the process of designing equipment,
systems, and processes that function well with human bodies. Ergonomically
friendly work environments and habits are key to reducing your risk of
workplace injuries and pain. If you work at a desk, try these tips to improve
your workspace and avoid shoulder pain.
Be aware of how you sit all day. When you’re
sitting at your desk, your:
- feet should be planted firmly
and flat on the floor or a stable footrest
- thighs should be
parallel to the ground
- lower back should be
- elbows should be
supported and close to your body
- wrists and hands should
be in line with your forearms
- shoulders should be
“As fatigue sets in through the day, we
tend to slouch, worsening the posture and strain on the body,” says Chris
Sorrells, an occupational therapist and ergonomics specialist. Ongoing good
posture is key to avoiding and relieving shoulder pain.
If you can’t seem to sit straight, Micke
suggests taking up yoga or tai chi. These types of exercises may help you develop
better core strength and overall posture.
Your desk should be level with your elbows
while you’re seated. If it’s too high, it can cause shoulder fatigue. If it’s
not adjustable, consider installing an adjustable keyboard and mouse tray.
Your computer monitor should sit about an
arm’s length away from you. The top of your screen should be just below your eye
level. Keep your monitor and keyboard centered in front of you. Constantly
twisting your neck to look at your monitor can cause neck and shoulder pain.
“Neck problems, such as pinched nerves, often refer pain into the shoulder
region,” says Sorrells.
It’s also important to keep tools and
supplies that you use regularly within easy reach. Twisting or stretching to
reach them can increase your risk of pain and injury.
in a headset
If your job entails a lot of talking on
the phone, consider using a headset. If you don’t want to use a headset, try to
avoid cradling your phone between your ear and your shoulder. And keep it
within easy reach of your nondominant hand. That way, you can continue to type
or use the mouse while you’re talking.
Try switching your mouse to the other side
of your desk. This will ease the workload of your normal mouse hand. It can be
particularly effective if you tend to have shoulder pain on only one side.
It may also help to build variety into
your schedule. Try not to do the same activity for hours at a time. “Spread out
returning phone calls, using the copier, or speaking with coworkers through the
day,” says Chris. “That way you’ll switch which muscle groups you’re using but
will still be productive. “
regular breaks and walks
Chris suggests taking a 30-second
“microbreak” every 30 minutes. During each break, shake out your hands and
arms. Also, relax your eyes, head, and neck by refocusing your vision on a
point about 20 feet away from you.
Every once in a while, leave your desk and
take a walk. Sorrells suggests a 10-minute break every two to three hours.
Taking a longer walk on your lunch break is also a good idea.
Don’t push yourself to the point of
injury. You should never try to perform a physical action you feel
uncomfortable with. For example, ask for help lifting or carrying heavy loads.
It’s also important to seek medical help
when you need it. If you develop pain, make an appointment with your doctor. If
you leave the underlying issue untreated, it may get worse and lead to other
Many people experience
shoulder pain related to their work. To help lower your risk of pain and
injury, adjust your workspace and habits to be more ergonomically friendly. If
you don’t feel comfortable completing a physically demanding task by yourself, ask
for help. And make an appointment with your doctor if you develop pain or other
symptoms of a workplace-related injury. Getting treatment can help ease your
symptoms and lower your risk of complications.