The shoulder consists of several joints that connect to
various tendons and muscles. The complexity of the shoulder is what enables you
do so much with your arms. It is also the reason so many people suffer from
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
RSIs frequently develop at work. Small,
repetitive activities can strain the muscles and tendons of your upper body,
including the shoulder. Activities that can cause RSI include:
- use of industrial machinery
- use of a computer mouse
- swiping items at a supermarket checkout
- carrying or lifting heavy loads
Shoulder pain is often cumulative
rather than sudden. It may be hard to pinpoint the exact cause. Potential sources of work-related shoulder
- static loading—when muscles have to hold the
body in one position for a long time
- awkward postures
- mechanical contact stress, such as resting your wrists on a hard desk edge
- force or pressure, even in small amounts
- hand-arm vibration, such as from a power
- full body vibration, such as from driving over rough roads
- extreme temperature exposure
- working with arms above shoulder level
It’s not only physically intensive
jobs that cause shoulder injury. Computer workers also have a high risk of
developing neck and shoulder pain. A large number of reported RSIs are
computer-related. “Sedentary work environments and work habits can weaken your
muscles and set the stage for pain,” says Micke Brown, a long-time nurse
specializing in pain management.
For most people, the keys to
minimizing neck and shoulder pain are to:
- optimize the workspace or work environment
- develop better posture
- reduce the stress your daily routine puts on
The streamlining of equipment and
devices to function well with the human body is called “ergonomics.” Here are a
few suggestions to help desk workers adjust the ergonomics of their workspaces.
These techniques can help reduce shoulder pain at work.
When sitting at your desk, your:
- feet should be firmly planted and flat on
the floor or on a stable footrest
- thighs should be parallel to the ground
- elbows should be supported and close to your
- wrists and hands should be in line with your
- lower back (the lumbar region) should be
- shoulders should be relaxed
Be aware of how you sit all day long.
“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 avoid and relieve shoulder pain.
If you can’t seem to sit straight, Micke suggests yoga
or tai chi as a long-term solution. These types of exercise can help develop
better overall posture.
Arrange Your Workspace
Your workspace should be even with your elbows while you
are seated. A desk that is too high can cause shoulder fatigue. If your desk
doesn’t adjust, install an adjustable keyboard and mouse tray. Keep everything
you use regularly within easy reach.
Adjust Your Monitor
Your computer monitor should sit about an arm’s length
away from you. The top of your screen should be just below eye level. Keep your
monitor and keyboard centered in front of you. Constantly twisting your neck to
look at a monitor can cause neck and shoulder pain. “Neck problems such as
pinched nerves often refer pain into the shoulder region,” says Sorrells.
Change It Up
Try switching your mouse to the other side of your desk.
This will ease the workload of your normal mouse-hand. This can be particularly
effective if you tend to have shoulder pain on only one side.
Also, build change 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 are using but will still be productive. “
Take a Walk
Chris suggests taking a 30-second “microbreak” every 30
minutes. You should shake out your hands and arms. Also, relax your eyes, head, and neck by
refocusing your eyes to a point about 20 feet away.
Every once in a while, leave your desk and actually take
a walk. Sorrells suggests a 10-minute break every two to three hours.
If your job entails a lot of talking on the phone, get a
headset. Never cradle your phone between your ear and your shoulder. If you do
not use a headset, keep your phone within easy reach of your nondominant hand.
That way, you can continue to type or use the mouse while on the phone.
This tip has a dual meaning. The first is that you shouldn’t
ever try to perform a physical action you feel uncomfortable with. Get help
with heavy loads. Ask for assistance if there is a physical activity you’re not
sure about. Second, if you ever feel pain, talk to a professional. Unaddressed problems
only get worse.