Avoiding Shoulder Strain

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

If you're like most people, you suffer from unexpected strains and injuries as a part of life.  It's not as if you're playing a contact sport or moving furniture all the time, you're just working and living, and in the course of things, you feel pain.  One of the most common complaints is shoulder pain.  While there are many kinds of shoulder pain, a frequent diagnosis is rotator cuff injury.  Simply out, an injury to the rotator cuff involves one or more of the four muscles in the shoulder.  You may be able to pinpoint the exact moment of injury, and the pain may get progressively worse as you use your shoulder.  There are many causes of rotator cuff injuries, resulting from obvious (a car accident or hard tackle in a football game) or even subtle (rolling over in bed) tears in the muscle. 

Rotator Cuff Injury Symptoms

Chronic tear

  • Usually in your dominant arm
  • Usually in 40 year+ men
  • The pain is worse at night and hinders sleep
  • Pain keeps getting worse, accompanied by gradual weakness
  • Start to not be able to use the arm, especially if the activity involves lifting the arm even with or higher than the shoulder joint in any direction

Acute tear

  • Sudden feeling of tearing, followed by intense pain shooting through the arm
  • Experience of pain and muscle spasms, which limit mobility
  • Acute pain from spasms and bleeding
  • Inability to raise arm to the side unless aided

A rotator cuff tear can be intensely painful, and may feel like it's never going to get better.  However, there are a few exercises you can practice for improvement, as well as some habits you can either stop or develop.  For instance, the tenderness in your shoulder will direct you to what you might consider changing.  You may start to notice that you reach into the back seat while driving to hand your child his sippy cup or to grab your brief case.  In addition to being dangerous to all road users, this motion can easily result in a tear.  Another change you will want to consider is your work station.  Your mother may have curbed bad posture, but chances are she never taught you good work posture.

Good Work Posture

  • You should never have to strain or overextend any part of your body to work efficiently.  Your shoulders should be relaxed when working.  Consider how to redesign your work space so you can reach what you need without overreaching it to get it. 
  • Your monitor should be eye level.  This includes laptops.  This may seem impossible, but the use of a lift mate will help maintain correct positioning and keep your neck from cramping.
  • Your wrists should be a "neutral position," meaning that you are not arching or bending them in an awkward way.  A wrist rest will help provide comfortable support.
  • Your mouse should be right next to your keyboard and on the same surface.  Too often, workers keep their mice inches, even a foot, away from the keyboard, which makes the shoulders tense. A good solution to limited desktop space is a mini keyboard, which allows you to maintain proper mouse placement.
  • Your chair should be comfortable and supportive of your back.  You just can't protect your back too much.  In fact, in addition to regular stretch breaks, some workers use an ergonomic desk, such as the Sit-Stand Mate, to help keep their backs (and therefore everything else) loose and pain-free while working.

By making a few lifestyle and ergonomic adjustments, you can safeguard more than your shoulders- you can protect your whole body!



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