Shoulder Pain: A Careful Look at Your Job Tasks and Their Effects on the Shoulder

Shoulder Pain: A Careful Look at Your Job Tasks and Their Effects on the Shoulder

For most people, pain and tension in the body are daily experiences. There are several non-work factors that affect the body and the body’s vulnerability to injury, like age, daily activity, and stress. However, shoulder pain is frequently a result of work-related activity, and it is not always so obvious.

For most people, pain and tension in the body are daily experiences. There are several non-work factors that affect the body and the body’s vulnerability to injury, like age, daily activity, and stress. Certain pains are easy to connect to work-related causes, like neck and low back conditions. However, shoulder pain is frequently a result of work-related activity, and it is not always so obvious. This is for two main reasons: the relationship between the neck and shoulders, and some activities don’t seem as harmful as they are. In an extensive study published by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), it was found that the relationship between shoulder activity on the job and shoulder pain was too strong for non-work factors to be the reason for pain. The shoulder is influenced by a variety of movements and postures, and can result in several acute or chronic conditions if not treated properly.

The shoulder is complex not only because of its range of motion, but also because of its connection to the neck and arms. The rotator cuff muscles are the most recognized source of shoulder pain, but the trapezius and deltoids are often involved when the shoulder is either moving or stabilized. A frustrating experience to have is when pain is not eliminated through manual manipulation (like massage.) This indicates that the source of pain is not where the pain is felt. For example, the scalenes, located on the side of the neck and move the ear to the shoulder, may be taxed in activities that primarily affect the neck and not the shoulders. However, problems in the scalenes very commonly produce pain in the shoulder and arm. As a result, people whose work involves only minimal shoulder movement may not connect shoulder pain with work activity.

The work-related movements most greatly contributing to shoulder pain are repetitive motion and posture. The greater the angle of the arm to the shoulder (think overhead work) and weight of object lifted, the greater the risk of injury. Similarly, the more repetitive the shoulder movement is, the better the odds are of developing a shoulder condition. Interesting, though, is the risk of shoulder condition to tasks that have minimal repetition. In some cases, low-repetition tasks are more damaging to the shoulder because the muscles are still working to stabilize the joint. Static postures, or holding the shoulder in one position for an extended period of time, lead to cell death and limited circulation that cause fatigue and wear on tendons and muscles. Over time, this can create pain and limited range of motion that impedes the ability to perform basic tasks involving shoulder movement.

Pain and dysfunction in the shoulder can be experienced in a number of ways. In an examination, shoulder issues would be characterized based on when and how pain is felt. Constant pain, or pain upon resting, is different than pain produced by specific movement. Pain can be felt as sharp, dull, stabbing, constant, acute and chronic. Limiting a specific movement to avoid pain can actually exacerbate symptoms rather than allow the muscles to rest. Pain isn’t the only determiner of dysfunction; often times stiffness, instability, and weakness of the shoulder joint are red flags that the joint needs treatment. Additionally, a health care practitioner would check for local redness, numbness, and swelling to determine the problem.

One of the strongest correlations between shoulder pain and work is that of highly repetitive shoulder movement and shoulder tendonitis. Tendonitis commonly arises from overuse or degenerative wear and tear, both of which may happen with repetitive activity. This is not only a painful condition, but contributes to limited range of motion and shoulder instability. Other dysfunctions that may arise from work-related shoulder stress are frozen shoulder, bursitis, degenerative joint disease, impingement syndrome, and arthritis.

Anyone who has exercised knows that repetitive activity actually strengthens muscles and tendons. This is very fortunate; however, this can only happen when there is sufficient recovery time between activities. Recovery happens during rest. Rest can be accomplished by: changing activities to use different muscles, taking breaks, waiting longer between bouts of activity, or even incorporating ergonomic solutions that demand less repetition, static postures, or forces applied to the shoulder. Initiating smarter work habits now can not only reduce the risk of injury, but also give your body the time it needs to heal and reverse some of the negative effects already sustained.

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