Shoulder Pain at Work: How to avoid it

Shoulder Pain at Work: How to avoid it

Overview of shoulder pain at work

The human shoulder is made up of many joints that link to different tendons and muscles. The shoulder is very complex, and it is for this reason that it enables the arms to perform a lot of functions. It also explains why many people suffer from shoulder pain at work and other related injuries.

Long-term shoulder pain at work is often caused by prolonged, repeated, and irregular movements of the shoulder at work. This form of pain is called the repetitive strain injury (RSI), also known as cumulative trauma disorder.

RSIs are mainly caused by activities at work. Some small, repeated activities can put a strain on the muscles and tendons of the upper extremity, and even the shoulder.  Examples of activities that can cause RSI to include:

  • Making use of a computer mouse
  • Swiping items at a checkout stand in a supermarket
  • Carrying heavy loads
  • Making use of industrial machines

Shoulder pain at work
Photo Credit: Sports-Health

Causes of shoulder pain at work

Shoulder pain at work most of the time occurs gradually and not suddenly. The exact cause of the pain may be hard to determine. Possible sources of shoulder pain at work include:

  • Irregular postures
  • Working with the arms positioned above the head
  • Exerting force or pressure on the shoulder, no matter how small
  • Mechanical contact stress, like that which happens when the wrists are rested on the edge of a hard desk while typing
  • Static loading happens when the muscles have to hold the body in a certain position for a long time
  • Hand-arm vibration, such as that caused by holding a power tool
  • Full body vibration, seen when driving through rough roads
  •  Exposure to extremes of temperature

Shoulder pain at work isn’t caused by physically intensive jobs alone, they have also been reported in office workers though a large number of these office cases are computer-related. Being in a sedentary work environment and doing sedentary works can weaken the muscles, ultimately causing pain.

Preventing shoulder pain at work

To reduce neck and shoulder pain at work, the following will be helpful:

  • adopting a better posture
  • optimizing your work surroundings
  • stress reduction

Ergonomics should be incorporated into the work environment. Ergonomics is all about designing equipment, systems, and processes that ensure the optimum functioning of the human body. An ergonomically friendly work environment will greatly reduce workplace injuries and pain. If your work point is at a desk, try to do the following and limit shoulder pain:

Sit correctly

Be conscious of how you sit throughout the day when sitting at your desk, ensure that you:

  • give your foot a stable footrest by either planting it firmly or flat on the floor
  • the thighs should be at a parallel distance to the floor
  • support your lower back
  • support your elbows and keep it close to your body
  • keep your wrist and hands at the same line with your forearms
  • relax your shoulders

An occupational and ergonomist specialist, Chris Sorrels, once said that we tend to slouch, thus worsening our posture and the strain on our body when we begin to get fatigued. Maintaining a good posture is necessary to prevent and relieve shoulder pain.

If you find it difficult to sit straight, try yoga or tai chi exercises which are built to enhance core strength and help you develop a better posture.

Rearrange your workspace

Ensure that your desk is at the same level with your elbows while you are sitting. It can make the shoulder to be fatigued when it is too high. If the desk cannot be adjusted, install an adjustable keyboard and mouse tray.

The computer monitor should be a little bit away from you and the top of the screen should be immediately below your eye level.

The keyboard and monitor should be arranged in the center, in front of you. If you persistently twist your neck to look at the monitor, you can develop shoulder pain or neck pain. Pain in the shoulder region can manifest as pinched nerves, as reported by Sorrels.

Also, place the tools and substances that you use frequently within easy reach. You will increase your chances of developing pain and injury if you always have to stretch to get them.

Get a headset

If the kind of job you do requires you to talk a lot on the phone, a headset may be beneficial. If you don’t want to use a headset, avoid placing your phone between your shoulder and your ear. Also, place your phone within reach of your non-dominant hand. This way, you can keep on using or typing with the mouse even while talking.

Change things

Attempt switching the mouse to the other side as this will relieve the pain and workload of your usual mouse hand. This is especially useful if you have one-sided shoulder pain.

Introduce variety into your schedule. Try not to be engaged in one activity for many hours at a time. Spread out and do activities that will use different muscle groups, return calls, use a copier, or speak with your colleagues at work. This will help you to be more productive.

Take breaks and go for walks regularly

Taking a 30-second micro-break every 30 minutes where you get to shake out your arms and legs, relax your eyes, head, and neck by looking at a particular spot about 20feet away from you will be helpful, says Chris.

From time to time, leave your desk and take a walk. Chris suggests a 10-minute break after every 2 to 3 hours. It will also be beneficial to take long walks during lunch break.

Ask for help

Do not push yourself to the extent of developing an injury. Never attempt to carry out an activity that will make you uncomfortable, ask for help to carry or lift heavy loads.

Remember to seek medical help when you need it. Book an appointment with the doctor when you develop pain. When an underlying issue is left untreated, it can worsen and even lead to other problems.


Many people experience shoulder pain at work. To help reduce your chances of developing pain and injury, make your workspace to be more ergonomically friendly. Ask for help if you don’t feel okay to complete a physically demanding task by yourself. Book an appointment with a doctor if you experience pains or other symptoms of work-place injury. Symptoms can be relieved by treatment and complications would be reduced too.

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