Help me relieve shoulder and neck pain from torn rotator cuff and computer use.
January 18, 2011 7:09 PM   Subscribe

Help me relieve shoulder and neck pain from torn rotator cuff and computer use.

I have been diagnosed by an ortho after an MRI of having a complete tear of my left rotator cuff. Unfortunately surgery is not for a month or two out. My job and duties require me to sit at a computer for hours at a time. When doing so I have a lot of pain in the arms, shoulder, and neck area. Sometimes to the point I feel like my body is on fire. Ibuprofen helps some, but temporarily.

I have reviewed other posts and some stretching exercises are possible but very limited because I can not lift my arm over my head or move it in some ways needed to get the complete remedy the stretching exercises seek to give. I am currently stationed in a small town and there are no ergonomic consultants around, my doctor doesn't know any either. I am working on posture but more or less looking for suggestions of what size chair and how high my desk should be.

I am 5'9" and weigh 185, male of average build. I currently use a 23" LCD Monitor the center is eye level (not the top) I read constant conflicting reports on top of the monitor, make sure its tilted, etc.

I have a chair that has no ability to adjust lumbar and I use a foot rest. My chair comes up my back and stops at my shoulders I use a dogbone pillow (found on Amazon) to rest my head back on for some relief. In addition I use some topical products to help allieviate the pain as well.

My desk is this one more or less (height and top are same): the sides are slightly different. Roughly 28 3/8" high
Chair is 19" from floor to seating area.
I think I need a higher chair or lower desk (Thats mainly the crux of this long winded post).

If anyone also knows of an ergo consultant who can possibly help me by internet/email I have no qualms about paying for the consultants time (within reason).
Thanks in advance!
posted by aorkis to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a trick you can do, since you can't really mobilize your arm fully.

Look at the motion the stretch is asking you to do. Get to the starting (not stretching) position. Put something in the way of where the stretch would go, an object that is not movable (a wall, a table, whatever). Gently apply pressure as if you were going to make the stretch for about 3 seconds. Relax. Repeat a couple of times.

By engaging your muscles in the direction of the stretch, it relaxes the muscles opposite of the movement (that is, your neuromuscular system, automatically turns off the antagonistic muscles in the process).

Gentle!!! You've got torn muscles! You really don't want to engage in a way that causes pain, since pain will just lock you up more.

Also- look at whether you can do the stretches lying down - getting your arm over your head means you're fighting gravity- if you're laying down, the situation is different. If you have someone who has training or good judgment to slowly take your arms into the stretch for you (SLOWLY. Enough that you can say STOP before it hurts), that's also a good possibility.

Post surgery, definitely look into physical therapy, and expect to keep doing the exercises long after you think you're "fine" because you'll want to keep those muscles working as best as possible.
posted by yeloson at 7:19 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Gently apply pressure as if you were going to make the stretch for about 3 seconds.

Also: to make sure that's really clear- start the stretch, except have that object in the way so that you don't actually get to the stretch, but press against the object as if you were going to make that stretch if this wall/door/table weren't in the way.
posted by yeloson at 7:21 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your desk should be low enough (chair should be high enough) so that with your shoulders relaxed you can raise your arms at the elbows and put your fingers straight onto your keyboard (90 degree bend in the elbow). It will definitely hurt your shoulders/upper back if you have to lift your elbows up to rest them on the desktop. There should be no tension or effort in using the keyboard/objects on the desk - shoulders should be totally relaxed.
posted by facetious at 7:48 PM on January 18, 2011

Also, if there's enough room between the top of your legs and the bottom of the desk, you might want to consider a keyboard tray that affixes to the bottom of the desk surface (if that would be the right height to prevent shoulder tension).
posted by facetious at 7:52 PM on January 18, 2011

You don't mention whether your chair has arm rests or not. If not, look into getting one that does. Even if it's out of your own pocket. It your health at stake here, don't cheap out and put up with something terrible. Making sure they know the chair is your property, of course. I've done that at past jobs and it made time at the desk a lot more comfortable.

A chair with arm rests (adjustable ones, of course) would let you rest your elbows on it and extend your arms more or less straight to the keyboard. This way you'd avoid having your arms "hang" from your shoulders. Instead the weight of them would be resting on the arms of the chair.

Likewise consider switching from a mouse to a trackball. They're much easier on the hands, arms and shoulders. You mostly use your fingers and hand to operate them, instead of your wrist and forearm. There are trackballs that use your fingers and some that use the thumb. I prefer the ones that use your fingers to move the ball, my wife prefers the thumb operated ones.
posted by wkearney99 at 8:06 PM on January 18, 2011

Put your mouse on the other side. If you are right handed put the mouse into your left hand. Keep your shoulders back, pull your shoulder blades together. Get up and move about every half hour or so. Stretch your chest. You want to prevent your shoulders from slumping forward. One way to do this is to sit back and to minimize your reach to the keyboard and mouse. Put them in your lap if you have to.
posted by caddis at 9:10 PM on January 18, 2011

I've had a similar problem with my neck. Like you, I have to sit many hours behind a computer. When I had a neck pain I wasn't able to sleep well and often because I didn't get enough rest the neck became more strained and it became worse.

Many visits to physiotherapist, 3 different office chairs and 2 different expensive memory pillows didn't help. The pain finally went away when I replaced the chairs with a €10 exercise ball. It took some getting used to, but after about a week I was already used to sitting on it and my neck pain went away.

I suggest you try it and see if it works for you.

Here's a size guide copied from

The rule of thumb is that you want to be able to sit on your ball with your legs at a 90 degree angle or slightly more, but not less.
Use these guidelines when you buy a fitness ball:
If you are 4'11" - 5'4", get a ball that is 55cm
If you are 5'5" - 5'11", get a ball that is 65cm
If you are 6' - 6'7, get a ball that is 75cm
posted by bbxx at 11:08 PM on January 18, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all for taking the time to respond. I have considered a medicine ball of some type, my main concern is that the ball may not be high enough and thus compounding the issue. I've read numerous sites that put 29 inches (which my desk approaches) being a little too high.

My current chair does have arm rests, but putting my chair so high to reach the desk prevents me from sitting under my desk (that is sliding the chair under as the arm rests hit the desk).

Unfortunately being in a small town I am limited to viewing what very large retail stores have on display, buying online is not an issue but purchasing furniture in order to relieve pain having multiple options and being able to sit and feel helps, I may make the five hour drive to a large city and hit office furniture specialty stores. Thanks again for all responses.
posted by aorkis at 7:47 AM on January 19, 2011

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