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Shoulder Overuse Injuries Not Just For Athletes

Shoulder problems aren’t limited to athletes. Virtua orthopedic surgeon Sean McMillan, DO, breaks down the types of shoulder overuse injuries and what you can do to prevent them.

Middle aged man holding up a tablet and smiling while looking out the window
Updated January 13, 2022

By Sean McMillan, DO, FAOAO, FAAOS, FAANA, Orthopedic Surgeon – Virtua Orthopedics
Many people think shoulder problems are limited to serious athletes. In fact, shoulder pain is often caused by overuse, creating wear and tear by performing the same activities over and over again.

Individuals working physically intensive jobs are at higher risk for repetitive strain injuries (RSI), which can strain the muscles and tendons of the upper body. These jobs include construction and assembly line workers, painters, supermarket checkout staff, and food service workers.

But office workers also are at risk of RSI. Using a mouse, resting your wrists on the edge of a hard desk while typing, and sitting hunched over your computer (this is especially true if you are at home and in a space and chair not designed for long hours of work) all can put stress on your shoulders and lead to pain.

Types of Overuse Injuries 
The shoulder has a complex anatomy that makes it susceptible to instability and injury. There are three bones: the humerus (upper arm), scapula (shoulder blade), and clavicle (collarbone). The top of the humerus is shaped like a ball, and fits into the shallow socket of the scapula. Ligaments and a tissue called the labrum keep the ball centered in the socket. Rotator cuff muscles and tendons provide stability and allow you to rotate your arm.

Unlike a fracture or dislocation, you probably won’t remember when you began to feel pain from a repetitive stress injury. Often, symptoms begin gradually, during your normal activities.

Overuse injuries include:

  • Arthritis — wearing down of cartilage that causes pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion
  • Bursitis — inflammation of the small fluid-filled sacs that prevent your bones from rubbing together 
  • Tendinitis (shoulder impingement syndrome) — inflammation and irritation of the tendons in the shoulder 
  • Frozen shoulder — a condition where your shoulder becomes so painful and stiff you can’t lift or move it
  • Muscle strain

Treatment and Prevention
Most overuse injuries can be treated with rest, avoiding aggravating activities, non-narcotic pain relievers, and physical therapy. People with more severe pain may be helped by a corticosteroid or biologic injection.

For those whose injury occurred from working at the computer, a more ergonomic desk, chair, and wrist pads for your keyboard and mouse are recommended. Also, take regular breaks to walk around and stretch your hands, arms, and neck.

Never try to perform a physical activity you are uncomfortable with. Ask for help carrying or lifting heavy loads. Using proper body mechanics and tandem lifting strategies can help protect your shoulder and help you maintain a healthy quality of life at work.

Don’t Let Joint Pain Hold You Back
From pain management and physical therapy, to surgery and rehabilitation, Virtua Health can help you get back in the game. Our board-certified and fellowship-trained sports medicine specialists and orthopedic surgeons guide your care – from diagnosis to treatment, and beyond. Learn more about the Virtua Orthopedics & Spine program or call 856-517-8812.