Computer Strain and Shoulder Pain: Themes of a Bodywork Practice


Confluence: a meeting of things, flowing together, at one time

It’s funny the way that themes present themselves in your life. Maybe a friend recommended a book to you and then you turn on NPR and hear the author talking, the next day maybe someone else decides to gift it to you. This is an example of confluence or the way in which complimentary or similar ideas flow into your life at the same time.

For us, each week seems to present a theme when it comes to our clients. Lately, that unifying complaint is shoulder pain and it’s coming, mainly, from those who use their computers every day. When you start getting people complaining of shoulder pain (not related to an obvious injury) in many of these cases, it turns out to be a repetitive stress injury caused by computer use. We find that by the time our clients complain, the injury has been coming on for a while, slowly worsening.

Computer Workstation Variables

Image via Wikipedia

Symptoms Include:

  • Inability to tuck your shirts into the back of the pants
  • Difficulty fastening a bra
  • Lifting the arm sideways without pain and restricted movement

If you are over 40 and were active in sports when you were younger it is possible that an old injury is acting up after spending hours and hours in front of a computer with poor ergonomic set up, if you never had an obvious injury the pain can be caused by irritation of the ligaments due to repetitive motion over a long period of time. Teres minor and major muscles are often the ones responsible for the pain.

Common causes of computer related shoulder injuries:

Poor computer ergonomics can result in excessive and/or prolonged shoulder flexion (forward motion) an/or abduction (elevation out to the side) which puts continuous stress on the tendons due to poor positioning. Such as:

  • Keyboard placement that is too high and causes shoulders to remain elevated
  • Poor positioning of the computer mouse (too far to the side or too far up), causing the user to reach up and out continuously
  • Poor work area organization can cause excessive reaching to find items on the desk surface.
  • Sustained work postures
  • Poor screen and chair positioning, awkward postures and high task repetition

Prevention: Computer-Ergonomic Solutions

In order to prevent repetitive stress injuries such as this, be sure to take regular breaks to stretch and move the muscles, making sure to drink plenty of water. Most importantly, take steps to improve your workstation ergonomics.  Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Make sure your computer keyboard is at the appropriate height. If you’re not sure what this is, ask us or visit one of the many ergonomics sites or retail stores to get your proper set-up.
  • Use an ergonomic computer mouse and place it near or at the same plane as your keyboard.
  • Organize your workstation to  make extending reaching unnecessary. Eliminate excessive clutter and keep your desk neat and clear.

Our clients have had great success working with us on these types of injuries. To treat this type of injury, we do an assessment of the rotator cuff muscles. Nine out of ten times the teres minor and major muscles are responsible for the restriction and pain on the shoulder. We work on ligaments and muscles in this area and we find that clients experience significant relief and release after one session — and three sessions seem to be enough to restore balance and mobility. We will also recommend stretches specific to these muscles, like those demonstrated in the videos below.

If your shoulder is left untreated, it will become worse, affecting your sleep and eventually becoming frozen. Remember that pain in one area, when left untreated will eventually migrate to the adjoining areas. It is not unusual that headaches and jaw pain originate on the shoulder.

If you are experiencing issues with your shoulders, try the stretches recommended above. If you feel any pain be sure to stop or try the stretch in a gentler manner. Do not overdo.

Schedule an appointment with us today, we can help get your muscles back on track and injury free by utilizing bodywork in conjunction with advice on stretches, breaks and ergonomics for your particular situation.