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Shoulder pain in office workers

Shoulder pain from impingement is common amongst athletes involved in overhead sports. Ironically the same shoulder pain condition can happen in someone who leads a more sedentary lifestyle. A common scenario is where someone reaches out for a stack of documents or a heavy object that weighs too much for the shoulder muscles.

A deskbound worker’s posture are the main factors that will give rise to such shoulder problem. These factors are similar to those predisposing factors of shoulder pain in overhead activity athletes.
The image below demonstrates a slouched sitting posture with a forward head posture typical of someone who spends long hours at their desk. A few factors to notice in someone with a shoulder pain, is the position of the shoulder blade, rounding of the shoulder, and poking of the chin.

Shoulder impingment from slouched sitting position
Shoulder impingment from slouched sitting position

Narrowing of shoulder joint space from a slouched position

Try slouching your upper body and raising up your arm as high as you can, compare this to sitting or standing upright and reaching high up. You will find that it takes more effort in the former scenerio and you may feel a pinch or a block in the shoulder as you go towards the end of range. This is because the shoulder joint space (subacromial joint) is narrower in a slouched position.

Muscle Imbalance

In slouched sitting, the shoulder blade is rested on the rib cage in a forward tilt orientation. Overtime, this develop into a muscle imbalance where the muscles in front (pectoralis minor) are tightened, and the muscles at the bottom of the shoulder blade (lower trapezius) are stretched and thus weakened. As the lower trapezius is one of the vital muscles to stabilise the shoulder blade, weakness will increase instability and poor control of the shoulder joint leading to overuse of the rotator cuff muscles to compensate for the instability.

Long hours in the slouched position also develop stiffness in the joints of the upper back. This means that even if you get away from the desk, the upper back is so stiff that it’s “stuck” in this slouched posture, coupled with the muscle imbalance, a person will find it increasingly more difficult to correct their posture even when in an upright standing stance, further increasing the risk of shoulder pain.

Rounded shoulder makes muscles inefficient

In a rounded shoulder, the ball of the shoulder joint will not be able sit well in the socket of the shoulder as there will be a inward rotation of the ball in the socket. Imagine a golf ball balancing on a tee, when the ball joint is not sitting well in the socket, muscles around it will have to work a lot harder to pull the ball into the socket to maintain stability. The excessive efforts from the muscles makes it tires and wears it down faster.


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