Repetitive Strain on The Shoulders and Upper Back

repetitive strain on shoulders

Repetitive Strain On The Shoulders And Upper Back

One third of all adults experience shoulder pain or soreness in the shoulders.

In many cases this can be due to a repetitive strain injury.

Repetitive strain injuries include a number of specific disorders. One of the most well known is carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful wrist condition caused by a pinched nerve that can lead to hand pain, numbness and weakness.2 In general, repetitive strain refers to any injury that results from overuse of a body part to perform a repetitive task, or from sustained and awkward positions.3,

For most people, repetitive strain injuries are a result of their job.1,4 Among those professions with the highest risk of repetitive strain are those which use computers.5 Poor posture while sitting at a desk and tasks like typing and using a mouse can often result in serious back and shoulder pain.4,6

This could start with a feeling of tenderness, stiffness, cramping or pain.3

Of course,  aches and pains associated with repetitive strain may be caused by a number of factors. So as well as treating the symptoms, it important to look closely at everything from work habits to workspace set-up

Problem: Overuse of hands and arms

The small, fine movements we use to type and click a mouse can cause pain in the upper body.7 When these tasks are repeated hour after hour, day after day, thousands of times, the effects start to add up. Strain to the muscles and tendons of the wrists and hands can produce painful symptoms.7 And just like sitting in one position for a long time, viewing a monitor for hours on end can strain muscles in the shoulders and neck.7

The Solution

Regularly stretch  the arms, wrists and fingers

get up and walk around if muscle fatigue starts to set in. .7

Problem: Poor posture

Sitting in a slumped or awkward position, especially while working at a computer, can strain the upper body causing back and shoulder pain.4,6

The Solution

When seated at a desk, feet should be flat on the floor with knees directly over them.7

The lower back should be fully supported.

Arms and shoulders should be relaxed and your head should be level or bent slightly forward.3,7

Keep frequently used objects within easy reach.3

Problem: Poor technique

The modern office is full of keyboards, laptops and mobile devices and knowing how to use them correctly can prevent injury.

The Solution

When using a laptop, use a separate keyboard and mouse and make sure the screen is positioned at head height on a stable base – not your lap.3

When typing, remember to keep your wrists straight and to avoid resting your wrists on the keyboard.7

Using keyboard shortcuts can also help to reduce the typing burden and prevent muscle strain.7 When using mobile devices to send emails, avoid typing long messages and regularly rest fingers and thumbs.8

Take breaks regularly to relieve upper body tension.3

Another way to reduce the overall risk of getting a repetitive strain injury is to stay active when you’re outside of the office. A study has shown that people who take part in some form of exercise during their leisure hours have fewer work-related repetitive strain injuries.9


  1. Tjepkema M. Repetitive strain injury. Health Reports 2003; 14(4):11-30. Accessed August 2010.
  2. Carpal tunnel syndrome:MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. U.S. National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. Accessed August 2010.
  3. NHS Choices. Prevent repetitive strain injury. Accessed August 2010.
  4. WHO. Preventing Musculoskeletal Disorders in the Workplace. Available at: Accessed August 2010.
  5. Van Tulder M, Malmivaara A, Koes B. Repetitive Strain Injury. Lancet 2007; 369: 1815–22.
  6. Hagberg M.  ABC of work related disorders. Neck and arm disorders. BMJ. 1996; 313(7054):419-22.
  7. U.S. Department of Labor. Occupational Health and Safety Administration.Computer workstations.  Accessed August 2010.
  8. StrategyOne for Microsoft. Ergonomics and repetitive strain injury. Available at: Accessed August 2010.
  9. Ratzlaf CR, Gillies JH, Koehoorn MW. Work-related repetitive strain injury and leisure-time physical activity. Arthritis Care & Research 2007; 57(3):495-500.