Shoulder pain from Computer Use

woman with shoulder pain courtesy inesbazdar-123rf

Shoulder pain for computer users is a form of Repetitive Strain Injury also known as WRULD (Work Related Upper Limb Disorder).

Shoulder pain for computer users is typically caused by the muscles and tendons between neck and wrist being held tensed in one posture for long periods. Often your shoulder posture is not at rest but supporting your mouse arm or your other arm but not in a resting position. The result is muscle/tendon fatigue and damage which ends in your shoulder pain!

Additionally, imbalances between muscles are likely to occur causing your body to become lob-sided to some degree, with some muscles overused and others weakened. Nerve entrapment and accelerated erosion of joints can result too.

The two most common RSI conditions affecting the shoulder are described in detail here:- Rotator Cuff Syndrome and Frozen Shoulder. The means of addressing your shoulder pain is described below.

You should seek a proper medical diagnosis promptly as RSI can become chronic and significantly affect your medium-long term ability to work or play normally.

Shoulder pain and how to address it ?

RSI conditions giving shoulder pain typically result from a sustained imbalance in the use of the four muscles which stabilise the shoulder and allow movement of the arm. You need to address this issue regardless of the diagnosis. Ask yourself these questions:-

  • Is your shoulder pain on the same side as your mouse? Notice where your elbow is when using your mouse – is it tucked into your waist with your arm directly ahead of your shoulder or is your arm drifting off to the right where your mouse is (for right-handed people). If so, the sustained tension in your arm is causing the muscles and tendons from your neck down to your wrist to tire and put undue stresses on your shoulder.
    As well as physiotherapy, you need to address the postural problems around your computer keyboard and mouse. A vertical ergonomic mouse and compact keyboard ensures that your elbow can be tucked beside your waist, as it should be, with your arm immediately forward. A true vertical mouse means you can use your mouse without the twisting significant tensions of a conventional mouse.
  • Do you regularly use a shoulder bag, carry a work bag or briefcase in one hand? If so, this will add to the imbalance in your shoulder (and chest/back muscles). A backpack bag will create more balance across the shoulders. Of course a heavy bag can add to impingement of tendons and nerves in the neck/collar area so a better solution is a pull-along laptop/office bag because so much of the weight is transferred to the floor.

Good Computer Posture

Your checklist

  1. Good PC PostureMaintain good posture – check these items:-
    • Adjustable height seat
    • Lumber support
    • Screen at arms length
    • Top of screen no higher than your eyes
    • Wrists should be in line with your forearm and hand, not at an angle, when using keyboard and mouse
    • Upper arm should be by your side and your inner elbow should be just about touching your side. Your forearm should be near horizontal and directly in front of your side. Numeric and function keypads on keyboards make this difficult to achieve and the tensed twisted arm posture is a major cause of RSI conditions.
      This is why we strongly recommend a vertical ergonomic mouse and compact ergonomic keyboard
  2. pull-along laptop/office bag considerably reduces the twisting action on your upper back and shoulder area if you carry a shoulder bag with a laptop or even a substantial lunch box in it!
  3. Many people slouch unconsciously. Ask people to check you when you’re not aware. If you slouch, highly effective software to monitor your posture exists using a webcam to spot when your posture ‘goes off’
  4. Don’t maintain any fixed posture for long periods. You need to move your body around a bit to exercise your tendons. Perhaps deliberately place things you use a lot too far away from your desk so that you have to stand up to use them. Physiotherapists suggest, humorously, that a seat with upturned pins on it is ideal…ensuring you didn’t sit there for long!
  5. Other tools and aids relevant to computer posture RSI conditions generally are below. :

Physiotherapy for shoulder pain

Your doctor is likely to recommend physiotherapy for your painful shoulder. Be prepared that this may take a few months and mostly comprises of the physiotherapist observing you, giving you exercises and returning a couple of weeks later. The exercises will be aimed at increasing mobility of the affected shoulder joint (carefully) and improving the balance of your core muscles – ie. across your chest and across your back.

Don’t do this physiotherapy without attending to your working environment (eg. mouse and keyboard) and means of carrying a laptop if appropriate, as described above.  Further information from PhysioAdvisor:- Exercises for Frozen Shoulder and Strengthening Exercises

Useful links

Rotator Cuff Syndrome 

Frozen Shoulder

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