Limiting Shoulder Pain At Work

Dec 17, 2022
The shoulder is one of the largest and most complex joints in the body. The shoulder joint is formed where the humerus (upper arm bone) fits into the scapula (shoulder blade), like a ball and socket.


The shoulder is one of the largest and most complex joints in the body. The shoulder joint is formed where the humerus (upper arm bone) fits into the scapula (shoulder blade), like a ball and socket. The complexity of the shoulder is what enables you to do so much with your arms. It is also the reason so many people battle with shoulder pain.

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 disorder.

RSI’s 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 stand
  • Carrying or lifting heavy loads


Shoulder pain usually worsens over time rather than a sudden occurrence. It may be hard to pinpoint the exact cause. Some potential sources of work-related shoulder pain include:

  • Static loading, when muscles have to hold the body in one position for an extended amount of time.
  • Awkward postures
  • Mechanical contact stress, such as resting your wrists on a hard desk edge while typing
  • Force or pressure
  • Hand-arm vibration, such as a power tool
  • Full body vibration
  • Extreme temperature exposure
  • Working with arms above shoulder level

It is not only physically intensive jobs that can cause shoulder injuries. Office workers also have an elevated risk of developing neck and shoulder pain. A large number of reported RSI’s are computer-related. Sedentary work environments and work habits can weaken your muscles and set the stage for pain.


For most people, the key is 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 your body

The streamlining of equipment and devices to function well with the human body is called “ergonomics”. We’ve provided a few suggestions to help desk workers adjust the ergonomics of their workspaces. These techniques can help reduce shoulder pain while 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 body
  • Wrists and hands should be in line with your forearms
  • Lower back (lumbar region) should be supported
  • Shoulders should be relaxed

Try to remain aware of how you sit. As fatigue sets in through the day, we tend to slouch, worsening the posture and strain on the body. Ongoing good posture is key to avoid and relieve shoulder pain.

If you can’t seem to sit straight, some people suggest yoga or tai-chi as a long-term solution of posture correcting. These types of exercise can help develop better overall posture.


Ideally, your workspace should be level with your elbows while you are seated. A work 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 grasp.


Your computer monitor should sit about an arm’s length away from you. The top of your screen should be just below eye level. Try keeping your monitor and keyboard centered in front of you. Constantly twisting your neck to look at a monitor can cause neck and shoulder discomfort.


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 you tend to have shoulder pain on only one side.

Add change into your schedule. Try not to do the same activity for hours at a time. Spread out returning calls, using the copier, or speaking with coworkers through the day. That way you’ll switch which muscle groups you are using but will still be productive.


It’s suggested to take a mini-break every 30 minutes to reset your muscles. You should shake out your hands and arms. Then, relax your eyes head and neck by refocusing your eyes to a point about 20 feet away. Every once and a while, leave your desk and actually take a walk, grab a cup of coffee or get a snack.


If your job requires a lot of talking on the phone, getting a headset is a great idea. Never cradle your phone between your ear and your shoulder. If you do not use a headset, place your phone within easy reach of your non dominant hand. That way, you can continue to type of use the mouse while on the phone.


Please remember, that you shouldn’t ever try to perform a physical action you feel uncomfortable with. Request help with heavy loads. Ask for assistance if there is a physical activity you’re not sure about. Lastly, if you ever feel pain, please talk to a professional immediately. Unaddressed problems may gradually get worse.

Dr. Adrian C. Dumitru is a board certified and fellowship trained pain management specialist. To learn more, or to schedule an appointment please call (713) 461-8555.