By Dr Murray McDonald
(IG/Twitter: @DrMurrayMcD)The shoulder is probably the most interesting joint in the body (at least to me). Partly because it sits on the fence between mobility and stability, but also because it is functionally several joints living in a co-dependent relationship. The ‘ball & socket’ joint gets all the press but it wouldn’t be anywhere without the support of the scapula (‘shoulder blade’), the clavicle (‘collarbone’) or the ribs (‘ribs’). This does however create a complex arrangement that can be prone to pain – especially with our current lifestyles of stress-marinaded, tech-addled, sedentary, desk work.
Now one might ask why, if a joint is so adaptable, can’t it adapt to sitting at a desk for 9hrs a day? And the answer is that it probably could. If that is all that we did. But we don’t – we have to shift furniture, pull stubborn pets, carry shopping bags, hang up washing, brush our hair, etc. Any of these movements could trigger pain in a shoulder that has been weakened by lack of use.
What this means is that we need a strategy to keep the shoulders strong, mobile, and happy. And this can be achieved in a number of ways, but here are a few tips:
1) Get your desk setup right. Get a decent chair with adjustable back and arm rests – AND USE THEM. If you’re not leaning against the backrest then your muscles have to do the work. Same goes for the arm rests. This can lead to tired, irritated muscles. Not good.
2) When you’re sitting, your elbows should be resting on either the armrest or the desk with your shoulder in a natural position i.e. less hunching like you live in a bell-tower, and your elbow should be close-ish to your body i.e. your arm shouldn’t have to reach so far forward all day.
3) Stay mobile throughout the day. Your body doesn’t like ANY position for too long (e.g. even my couch gets uncomfortable eventually… alas), so try to change positions – even slightly – as often as you can. Also take frequent breaks – these breaks don’t have to be long affairs involving passports and exploration, just a minute or two of circling your arms and some light stretching can be all that’s necessary.
4) Hang from a bar for 30 seconds a day. Before you say “I can’t possibly finish a beer in that time!” let me say that it’s not that kind of bar. What I mean is that we evolved when climbing trees was still a necessary skill so the shoulder is good at reaching overhead. Unfortunately modern life doesn’t require as much Tarzan-esque escapades as it should (much to my chagrin) and our shoulders suffer for it. So once a day (or more) just grab hold of a bar or other sturdy overhead structure (e.g. door frame) and hang as much of your weight as you can comfortably for a good, deep stretch. If you can’t manage it at first, work up to it with less of a “hang”, and more of a “lean”.
5) You can’t go wrong getting strong. Get active! Try to do some exercise every day – it could be a walk or a run, have a swim, have some fun, lift a weight (even two) – it’ll be good for you.
And if you’re still having problems? Time to call the chiropractor: 021 683 2996.