It’s been about 30 years since the computing revolution began to weave its digital tendrils into our daily lives. For those who now have to use computers on a daily basis to keep up with friends, family, and work, those 30 years of development and market penetration can often seem like a physical insult — a condemnation to repetitive strain injuries and mysterious bouts of numbness in the hands and aches in the shoulders. There are things, though, that you can do to help keep your body tuned up and working right despite the many hours you spend in front of the computer!
For many of my clients (and often for myself!), prolonged computer usage often leads to a host of dysfunctions including: tingling, numbness, and/or weakness around the shoulders, neck, and wrists; the sensation of friction in the elbow; pain in the middle of the back; and just a general sense of discomfort all over. Sometimes the collection of symptoms you end up with get called carpal tunnel syndrome or thoracic outlet syndrome or medial epicondylitis or tendonitis (or just plain “ouchies” if your diagnosing physician happens to be under the age of 10). What all of these issues have in common is that you can do some exercises on your own to help alleviate them!
Using the computer tends to weaken the muscles and connective tissues that stabilize your shoulder blades from below. When using the computer, the lower portion of your shoulder blade often slides forward. It very rarely ever needs to slide back while you’re slouching in your chair. Your body gets good at whatever you ask it to do, so your body gets great at letting your shoulder blade sit forward. To get really good at this, your lower trapezius — the one that helps bring your shoulder blade back — gets lazy.
If the lower trapezius gets lazy, guess what? Everyone else has to pick up the slack, and the rest of the muscles and connective tissues attached to your shoulder blade are going to get irritated, inflamed, and start doing things that throw balance out the window and start compressing down on things that shouldn’t get compressed.
End result: pain and discomfort.
So here’s an exercise that works wonders at re-establishing balance around the shoulder blade and reducing computer pain. You may not be able to do this one at the office, but doing this at home on your bed before and after work (or on the office floor when everyone is on lunch break) can be great for maintaining proper balance around your shoulder blades because it gets your lower trapezius working again. Give it a shot, and be prepared to be surprised by how hard it is! (Remember, respect your body’s limits and don’t push beyond them. And if you’ve got some medical condition that dictates that you shouldn’t do this exercise — don’t!).
As you’re doing this exercise, squeeze your shoulder blades together first, then bring your thumbs up toward the ceiling and feel how your shoulder blades come even closer together. Then let your hands back down and then release your shoulder blades. Now just wash, rinse, and repeat!
This exercise can go a long way to help with some people and may actually be too tough to do any good if you’re already in significant pain. Give it a shot. If it helps, it was free. If it doesn’t, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do — it just means this one isn’t quite what you need to really address your shoulder issues (or it needs to be combined with other exercises).
The human body is a complex network of muscles that constantly needs to be fine-tuned. If this exercise doesn’t get you relief, it’s a good idea to find a health professional who’s good at helping people fix your muscle imbalances and postural distortions so you can get back to the things you love.
Update 9/11/15: It looks like the original video has been taken down. Fortunately we do have our own beginners’ workout to help with shoulder positioning problems that you can check out here!