If you’re experiencing shoulder pain from computer use, you could be suffering from a condition known as “mouse shoulder.” This pain condition is becoming increasingly more common among office workers. Here’s what you need to know about this condition, along with treatments that work.
What is mouse shoulder?
This condition refers to shoulder pain from using a mouse with your computer without appropriate arm support. It can develop over weeks or months of use. This repetitive strain injury (RSI) from constant repetitive movements in a limited area can lead to real pain problems in your shoulder, neck, and upper back. You may also hear it referred to as a repetitive strain injury or work-related upper limb disorder.
Think about it this way.
If you work in an office, you probably spend hours every day with one arm extended on your mouse, clicking and dragging items. The Canadian Centre for Occupational and Health Safety reports that we actually use our mouses three times as often as the keyboard. This repetitive use could occur during work or while playing video games.
If you haven’t set up an ergonomic work station (which we’ll discuss shortly), your mouse could be too low or too high. It could also be set up in a way where your arm has no or little support during the day. If your mouse is too low, you’re constantly reaching your hand towards it. Too high and you’re constantly tensing the muscles in your upper arm and shoulder.
With enough time and stress, any area of the body can succumb to a repetitive strain injury. This is what occurs with mouse shoulder.
What causes mouse shoulder?
There’s a number of reasons. For one, using a mouse requires small, focused movements of your hand and fingers. Over time, these small muscles can become fatigued. And this fatigue can lead to tension in larger muscle groups that try to compensate.
Further, as Jane O’Connor & Associates, osteopaths in the UK, explain:
“The shoulder and shoulder blade attach to the body by various muscles that insert into the spine, ribcage, neck and base of the skull. Holding a mouse with the arm held away from the body causes these muscles to contract, as they support the weight of the outstretched arm. Sitting like this for several hours with little variation or relaxation can, in time, lead to pain and weakness.”
You’ll see similar repetitive strain injuries if you engage in similar work-related activities, such as using industrial machinery in a precise way or performing a predetermined set of manual labor tasks.
What are common mouse shoulder symptoms?
The most common symptoms of this condition include:
- Pain in one shoulder (that uses a mouse)
- Tightness and pain in your upper back and shoulder blades
- Pain that extends down the arms into the hands
- Numbness or tingling in your fingers and hands
- Burning or stiffness in your shoulder or arms
- Pain in your wrist
- Muscle spasms
- Loss of strength in the hands
- Painful nodules or cysts around your joints and tendons, in severe cases
You may only experience a few of these symptoms, or your pain could affect the overall quality of your life.
What treatments work for shoulder pain from computer use?
If you suffer from mouse shoulder, there are things you can do right now (and in less than five minutes) to reduce your pain.
Modify your workspace
For many, the cause of their shoulder pain is their office setup. Here’s what you can do to fix it.
- Ensure your workspace is set up in an ergonomic way, using the graphic below
- Place your mouse in a location where you don’t have to reach for it (if this isn’t possible, see other options below)
- Make sure your wrist is in a neutral or slightly flexed position when operating your mouse or keyboard
- Adjust your arm rests for they’re supporting your arm (or see options below)
- Hold your mouse lightly while working
- Switch your mouse hands periodically throughout the day
- Use a telephone headset to reduce any neck and shoulder pain from talking on a phone
- Using a dictation software if it allows you to take breaks
- Break the repetition– take regular breaks and allow time for stretches (see below)
Even if you undergo physical therapy or other more advanced treatments, your mouse shoulder will return if you haven’t also tackled your workspace.
Invest in a new mouse or arm rest
Some people also find relief by using a different kind of mouse or armrest. Some options include a mouse with a trackball or a vertical mouse. Still others invest in a specially made computer arm-rest for supporting your arm weight. Even though an investment, many of these are affordable–ranging from $14 to $60. The best-rated arm rests and mouse for shoulder pain include the following.
Improve your posture
As Chris Sorrells, an occupational therapist and ergonomics specialist, on HealthLine reports:
“As fatigue sets in through the day, we tend to slouch, worsening the posture and strain on the body.”
Activities like core strengthening exercises, yoga, tai chi, or Pilates can help you improve your posture. Other general reminders throughout the day–like a sticky note or iPhone app–can also help. When improving your posture during the day, focus on bringing your shoulders down away from your ears. This can release some of the stored-up tension in your shoulders and neck.
Try mouse shoulder exercises
Coach Deb Fitness has a great video for reducing shoulder pain from computer use. This easy-to-use program is easy to do for many patients. Before trying these exercises, however, always talk to your doctor.
A Q&A series on RSITips.com also has some guidance for exercises you can do for shoulder pain.
If you’ve developed your shoulder and wrist pain from gaming (or even if you haven’t), this thread on Reddit shares some invaluable exercises and stretches for relieving tension. One commenter even put together a quick shoulder exercises infographic that you can keep open on one screen as a reminder throughout the day.
Other interventional treatments may include:
- Physical therapy
- Chiropractic care
- Shoulder joint injections
- Medications for acute cases of pain
As noted earlier, these therapies should always be used in conjunction with other modifications at your computer. Without addressing the source of the problem, your pain could come back.
Some shoulder pain patients find relief with acupuncture. This treatment option doesn’t rely on medications, is non-invasive, and can be effective for some cases. While it hasn’t been indicated for long-term use, it can be an option to use in addition to physical therapy and other shoulder pain exercises.
If you’re suffering from more advanced forms of pain, a physical therapist can help. As Computer-Posture.co explains:
“Your doctor is likely to recommend physiotherapy for your painful shoulder. Be prepared that this may take a few months and mostly comprises of the physiotherapist observing you, giving you exercises and returning a couple of weeks later. The exercises will be aimed at increasing mobility of the affected shoulder joint (carefully) and improving the balance of your core muscles – ie. across your chest and across your back.”
Massage can also be a great option, in addition to changing your ergonomics setup. Relax Massage Therapy explains:
“Sitting in front of a computer for hours on end is not good for your shoulders, neck or back. However, regular massage can help relieve tension in shoulders and also reduce shoulder pain from stress as well as prevent and alleviate painful issues that arise from overuse.”
Chiropractic care involves the manipulation of misaligned joints. This treatment could help resolve postural problems that are leading to mouse shoulder or other repetitive strain injuries. Learn more about chiropractic care here.
Shoulder joint injections
Shoulder joint injections can help manage the stiffness and inflammation in the joint. They are typically a mixture of anesthetic and steroids, though some pain specialists are beginning to use regenerative therapies like PRP. Joint injections are a safe and effective procedure option for those with severe pain.
The following video shows how a knee joint injection is performed. While not exactly the same, it can give a good overview for what you can expect for the procedure. Shoulder joint injections should always be given in addition to other forms of therapy like workplace modifications and physical therapy. These can help you engage in exercises–building up your muscles–while reducing pain for moderate periods of time.
If you’re experiencing shoulder pain that hasn’t responded to therapy, it may be time to talk to a pain specialist. They can help diagnose the cause of your pain. They can also introduce treatment options like shoulder joint injections, if warranted.
Overall, if you’re suffering in pain, it’s important that you take steps to resolve the underlying issue. Mouse shoulder often has a very immediate cause, with very specific treatments. The sooner you remedy the cause of your pain, the more likely you’ll be able to relieve your shoulder pain.
To find a pain specialist in your area, click the button below.