Computer Related Shoulder Pain

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Is Computer Related Shoulder Pain a genuine syndrome? If it isn't now then it might as well be. Shoulder, neck and back problems suffered by those who use computers for long hours are probably the most frequent musculo-skeletal issue seen in my office and probably in many of my colleagues clinics as well. The most common sites of pain are between the shoulder blades, the tops of the shoulders, the neck itself and in particular the left shoulder (a condition I often reffer to as 'mouse shoulder'!). The symptoms include muscular stiffness, restricted movement, aching, and severe pain and tension which may lead to headaches and jaw problems. Even those who seek massage for these issues will indeed enjoy having the 'knots' worked out but will often only enjoy temporary benefits if at all.

Why are the benefits of standard massage only short lived?

You could argue that the fact the person is just returning to the situation that caused the problem and that a return to pain is inevitable. I would suggest that with a course of treatment working in all the correct areas, coupled with regular excercise and stretching we can achieve results that last weeks or months meaning that you can make it to that all important top-up treatment without returning to square 1. If we just concentrate on massaging the area where it is painful (eg. shoulders) then we are just working with symptoms and not the causing factors of the problem, so if we want to achieve lasting relief we will need a savvy therapist and a client who is willing to show a little patience.

So where should we be treating?

As with any good therapy session, there is no recipe as each and every client presents an individual and unique situation and should therefore be treated as such. However, there are specific areas we can explore to find resolution to the presenting sypmtoms. If we have a client who's shoulders are hunched forwards, immediately we should be looking to a shortening of tissue in the chest area (pec major & minor) so this would be a really good area to start a treatment, not only softening the tissue but using lengthening strokes going from superficial to deep. Pec minor work is best done slowly and gently, combining it with breathing cues for the client. This presentation would be typical for someone with pain across the tops of the shoulders (traps), because as the pecs shorten, the traps are pulled into an uncomfortable stretch.

For those with pain mainly between the shoulder blades we look to the tissues which are responsible for pulling the shoulder blades away from the midline and leaving the section between the shoulder blades and spine (rhomboids) stretched, overworked and painful. Again the pecs would be a good place to start, but more specifically we could look to musculature such as subscapularis and serratus anterior which are located around the front side and outside edge of the shoulder blade respectively. Subscapularis in particular can be a 'challenging' one for the client, but as with most areas that may cause the client discomfort- it brings its own reward following the work.

Some people may present with a distinct curve or hunch in the mid/upper back (kyphosis), and will most likely complain of aching around the mid-back or bra strap line. In this situation it is important to work into the diaphragm area and do work to 'lift' the ribcage.

Obviously there are many more areas that we may need to work, to gain a satisfactory result but I just thought I would highlight some of the less obvious connections. To put it in a nutshell, it is imperative to have massage done on the front of the body as well as the back when working with computer-related shoulder pain.

What can the client do to help progress?

The antidote to a sedentary lifestyle is to keep the shoulders, neck and back mobile by taking them through a few full ranges of movement before you start work, at dinner and when you finish in the evening. If this is coupled with a couple of sessions a week of exercise (swimming/gym) or even better, something that works on full body flexibilty such as Qi Gong or Yoga we can really start to see the maintenance of results following treatment.


All you need to be free of computer-related shoulder pain:

- A course of treatment addressing both the front and back of the body

- Monthly maintenance sessions

- Daily mobilty exercises/stretches

- Weekly exercise/flexibilty programs


by Alex Boylan owner of Re-Creation


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