Shoulder and neck pain are on the rise, largely due to the increasing number of professions based at the desk using a computer. An estimated 26% of adults experience shoulder pain or tightness.
As one of the body’s more complicated joints, tightness in the shoulder muscles can lead to chronic shoulder and neck pain, headaches, a reduction in range of motion, and limitations to daily activities such as dressing or reaching up in a cabinet. Shoulder tightness also makes you move vulnerable to injury.
There is actually a condition that has been described as Mouse Shoulder which has developed as a result of extended time on computers. With the arm extended forward, the small focused movements of the mouse leads to fatigue, causing larger shoulder muscles to compensate and then tighten. Symptoms present as pain on one side of the neck, spreading to the shoulder.
As an increasing number of Americans work from home since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to ensure a proper workspace and practice regular shoulder health to avoid pain and injury. Experts recommend these five steps:
• Maintain proper posture and body position: After an extended time working, it is common for us to find ourselves huddled over our computers with heads leaning forward and shoulders rounded. This causes shoulder to tighten and, over time, become painful. Remind yourself throughout the day to maintain proper posture, with shoulders straight and relaxed and feet planted firmly on the ground.
• Ensure a proper workspace: Your desk should be level with your elbows and elbows should be adequately supported (to prevent Mouse Shoulder.) Wrists and hands should be in line with your forearms. The computer monitor should sit just below eye level.
• Utilize a headset: Headsets are effective to avoid cradling the phone between our ear and shoulder. They also enable us to free up our hands and allow the head, neck and shoulders to move freely. Studies show the use of headsets can reduce muscle tension by up to 41%.
• Take breaks: Regular breaks throughout the day to walk or stand relieves the stress on the shoulder muscles and enables them to relax.
• Daily stretching: Stretching is, in my opinion, the best way to keep shoulders healthy and prevent injury. It fixes the shortening or tension that occurs while sitting at the computer, keeping the muscles long and flexible. A quick internet search will provide you with three or four simple shoulders stretches to help ward off pain and prevent injury.
Following these healthy practices should help most people avoid chronic shoulder pain or discomfort caused by long hours at office or home. However, if your pain worsens, becomes severe or is stabbing, you should consult your physician immediately.
Dr. Matthew Levy writes about orthopedics for the Cleveland Jewish News. He is an orthopedic surgeon at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center and practices in Solon, Independence and downtown Cleveland.