Have you ever developed aches, pains or injuries from sitting at your desk, staring at your computer screen, with poor posture for hours on end? It seems obvious, but humans weren’t designed to sit at a desk all day! Our hunter and gatherer ancestors certainly didn’t suffer from knots in the shoulder blades or RSI injuries from being sedentary.
In this blog post, we discuss the causes and symptoms of desk injuries to the shoulder, elbow, and wrist and provide helpful tips to reduce injury and also relevant exercise videos you can do at home or work to reduce symptoms.
One of the common presentations that we see in our patients is shoulder pain from using a computer mouse. This often isn’t an isolated symptom, it often comes with headaches from neck strain if the computer screen isn’t set up correctly, wrist pain due to repetitive strain from typing and mouse use, aches and pains in the mid-back from poor posture due to poor desk setup, and an inappropriate chair. We often see desk workers not taking enough work breaks to get up and move to help reduce these types of injuries.
Musculoskeletal injuries are one of the top three reasons people take sick days from work. These injuries can also lead to poor productivity, poor engagement with a workplace and elevated stress levels.
It is important to understand these injuries and how to prevent and avoid them. Learn how to relieve shoulder pain from using a mouse with these quick tips, proven exercises, and recommended treatments!
JULY 2023 UPDATE – check out our latest shoulder exercise videos for relieving pain at the bottom of this page – click here.
Shoulder pain risk factors
There are several risk factors that have been identified when it comes to occupational risk factors for shoulder pain. These include;
- Heavy workload – if you are experiencing an increased volume of work
- Awkward postures – such as poor ergonomic set up of your desk, computer or chair
- Repetitive movements – such as typing and computer mouse work
- Vibration – if you are exposed to any machinery that vibrates
- Duration of employment – how long a person has been doing the job
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What is Mouse Arm Syndrome?
Mouse Arm Syndrome is a condition that affects the hand, wrist and shoulder that normally occurs in desk workers that are subject to repetitive strain using the mouse and keyboard. A syndrome is a collection of symptoms, Mouse Arm Syndrome symptoms may include:
- Pain in the hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder
- Pins and needles in the hand
- Swelling of the hand and wrist
- Tightness of the muscles in the shoulder, forearm and hand
- In chronic cases, calcification of the tendons that run over the wrist joint
What is Mouse Shoulder?
Mouse Shoulder is a description used when someone specifically presents with tension around the upper shoulder and neck from repetitive strain from overuse of the mouse. This condition affects the muscles and tendons that pass through and around the shoulder and neck joints. It is often characterized by:
- Burning sensation in the shoulder
- Knots in the shoulder blade
- Reduced movement in the shoulder joint
- Stiffness of the neck joints
The most common type of elbow pain is tennis and golfer’s elbow.
These conditions don’t necessarily arise from playing these sports, but can happen when the tendons that pass over the elbow joint are subject to repetitive strain. These tendons become weak and inflamed and cause pain. They are common in desk workers and are sometimes referred to as “mouse elbow”.
Treatment for Mouse Arm Syndrome
If you are suffering from Mouse Arm Syndrome it is important to consult a trusted practitioner who can correctly diagnose and form the right treatment plan for you. Identifying the key drivers as to why you are suffering from Mouse Arm Syndrome is important to getting you back to feeling healthy and symptom free!
Treatment should include a variety of strategies:
- Manual therapy which may include massage, stretching, dry needling, shockwave therapy
- Exercise prescription including strengthening, mobility and muscular release work
- Posture advice and ergonomic set up
- Lifestyle advice on general health
Manual therapy delivered by an Osteopath, Physiotherapist or Myotherapist may help reduce muscle tightness, any swelling and help with range of motion of the joints and postural discomfort. Whilst often this type of treatment alone will help your symptoms to reduce, longer term solutions to recover must include exercise rehabilitation and assessment of your workstation and work schedule. Without this you may continually re aggravate this injury.
Posture advice & tips – Work harder
In terms of ‘desk posture’ we can have a really big impact on this by how we set up our desk and our working day.
Things to consider when setting up your day:
- How many walking meetings can you do?
- Do you have scheduled breaks?
- Have you got some great nutrition to help you through the day?
- What state of mind are you in? Tired? Stressed? Feeling good? Some awareness of your mental health to make sure your day caters for this.
Things to consider when setting up your desk:
- What chair you are sitting in. Is it ergonomic?
- The type of desk – is it a sit to stand desk?
- Does the combination of chair and desk set your arms up in a good position or the keyboard and mouse?
- The height of the computer screen, where are your eyes? Are you straining to read the screen?
- Do you have an ergonomic mouse and keypad?
- Do you have a headset for your phone?
Refer to this simple guide to ergonomics to help you.
If you have a foam roller these exercises will help you with posture!
Exercises for the shoulders
Strengthening, stretching and mobilising the shoulder is a great way to help reduce symptoms and also prevent Mouse Arm Syndrome. The shoulder joint has a lot of tendons that cross it and there are many exercises that can help the shoulder joint.
Pec stretch- release the front of the shoulder. These muscles are often tight from sitting with poor posture in front of the computer.
Lower trap activation – this helps to activate the postural muscles of the shoulder blade to improve the strength of the back muscles and help with posture.
Spikey ball shoulder release – using your massage ball helps get blood to the area encouraging healing of the muscles.
Rows with a theraband – strengthening your back postural muscles will help with posture.
Exercises for the hands, wrist and elbows
Follow these quick and easy exercises for the wrist, hands and elbows.
Wrist/elbow stretch 1 – this stretches the extensor muscle of the wrist that come from the elbow.
Wrist/elbow stretch 2- this stretches the flexor muscles of the wrist that come from the elbow.
Wrist traction- this helps with stiffness and swelling around the wrist.