The shoulder’s a complicated joint so it’s probably no surprise that there are many different causes of shoulder pain – frozen shoulder, impingement, bursitis, tendonitis, the list goes on….
While all these conditions should resolve over time, often things can drag on and you suddenly realise that that nagging shoulder has been giving you trouble for weeks, sometimes months.
Chronic pain in the shoulder can be seriously debilitating affecting all aspects of your life from exercise to sleep; from your ability to work to playing with your children.
So, as osteopaths, we see a lot of people with shoulder problems. When the problem has become chronic ie gone on for a couple of months or more, then we’ll be looking for the reasons why.
Over the past few years, unsurprisingly, what we’re seeing is a lot of office workers come in with this kind of issue. There seem to be two major reasons for this.
When it comes to work stations – keyboard, mouse, screen, chair – things have improved over recent years. There’s more knowledge in the workplace, equipment is more ergonomically designed and employers now seem to recognise the importance of investing in employees’ work stations.
However, work stations are still not the ideal when it comes to our posture and can certainly be a major factor in shoulder pain. They can cause a forward leaning posture of the upper back and compression in the neck. This is then often exacerbated by a stretching forward of the arm – especially when using the mouse – or by leaning forward on to the elbow. Both of these positions cause the main shoulder joint to be compressed which can cause inflammation either of the joint or of the tendons passing through it. The result? Chronic shoulder pain.
Lack of movement
Having said this, in truth, there’s no such thing as ‘bad posture’. The real issue is prolonged posture ie staying in one place for too long. You will be fine with the demands of a workstation if you move through a variety of positions and have regular breaks.
What is harder to get around is the sedentary nature of office work. We are evolved to move and nowhere is this truer than of our shoulders. We are built to stretch, to reach, to carry. Office work clearly doesn’t ask for these movements. We sit with arms tucked to our sides and rarely put our shoulders through anything like their full range of movement through a working day.
The result of this is shoulder joints lacking their full range of movement and tight, weak muscles around the joint. These are ideal conditions for either setting up chronic inflammation of the shoulder or maintaining a shoulder problem that would normally resolve itself. But, it is a cycle that can be broken with excellent effects.
Yes, osteopathic assessment and treatment is invaluable especially if there are issues with the neck and upper back that are playing a part in your shoulder pain but there’s a lot that you can do for yourself as well.
Our next blog will look at firstly stretches that you can do at home or the office; the one after that will look at strengthening exercises. Generally, both stretching and strengthening will see big improvements in any shoulder discomfort that you may have been struggling with.