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Are you a console gamer or a PC gamer? Perhaps you’re neither, and you prefer to play mobile. Regardless of the devices we choose, many of us have a tendency to rest our elbows or forearms on our thighs or desks. If you’re someone who leans on your elbows or forearms, you’re more likely to develop ailments, namely shoulder pain.
We have already written, in detail, how leaning on your elbows or forearms may cause pain, numbness, or tingling in the forearm, hand, or fingers—a condition known as cubital tunnel syndrome. However, this position may also lead to shoulder pain.
Your posture may be causing your shoulder pain
Previously, we have written about seated posture and gaming, and it’s important to recognize how your posture and desk set-up contribute to how your body handles stress.
Mouse shoulder (bicipital tendinopathy)
The most common shoulder pain experienced by gamers is mouse shoulder. Of course, this injury will occur more frequently in PC gamers; however, console gamers are not immune to developing bicipital tendinopathy (the actual name of this injury).
Bicipital tendinopathy develops due to chronic movement imbalance. This means the biceps [brachii] muscle is being shortened too frequently without the counter of lengthening under tension. And, poor posture will exacerbate this imbalance.
In console gaming, leaning forward with your elbows or forearms on your thighs or knees with the controller out in front of you will create a lot of unnecessary tension into the biceps muscle(s).
In PC gaming, sitting too far away from your setup and/or slouching will require you to reach out to use your keyboard and mouse. This is a terrible mechanical disadvantage for your biceps muscle, meaning the muscle is not positioned appropriately to manage the stress.
Simply stated, holding or lifting something close to your body is easier and more efficient. Holding or lifting something further away from your body is more difficult and inefficient. Your mouse being far away from your body is actually making it more difficult for you to move. It’s also slower!
Acromioclavicular joint pain and supraspinatus impingement
Mouse shoulder is generally felt in the front of your shoulder. However, you may also experience shoulder pain in the top of the shoulder. The most common causes of pain on the top of your shoulder are in a joint called the acromioclavicular (AC) joint and impingement (squeezing) of a muscle called the supraspinatus.
Acromioclavicular joint pain
The acromioclavicular joint is the connection between your clavicle (collar bone) and the upper/outer portion of your scapula (shoulder blade)—a projection called the acromion.
Most often, your awful posture will be the cause of AC joint pain. If you’re sitting with your elbows or forearms resting heavily on your thighs or knees, or if your chair’s armrests are too high, there will be upward pressure on your humerus (the upper arm bone). This upward pressure may elevate the humerus within the shoulder joint putting pressure on the underside of the AC joint.
Pressure from underneath the AC joint will put pressure on the joint capsule and the ligaments that support it. If these ligaments become lax or overstretched, you may experience pain. In some cases, the joint may not line up properly, and this is known as a separated shoulder.
The supraspinatus muscle is one of four muscles of the rotator cuff. These muscles primarily provide stability for the shoulder joint, and the supraspinatus muscle supports the top of the joint.
This muscle runs underneath the acromion of the scapula. As described earlier, upward pressure on the elbows or forearms may elevate the humerus within the shoulder joint. Another issue that may result from the humerus’s elevated position is an impingement, or pinching, of the supraspinatus muscle.
Supraspinatus impingement will most certainly cause shoulder pain on the top of the shoulder. Most commonly, pain will be significant in a “painful arc,” or pain within 60 and 120 degrees of abduction (lifting your arm out to your side and over your head).
To prevent these injuries, you must first start with assessing your posture. Although there truly is no perfectly-healthy way to sit, there is certainly a more appropriate way to sit.
Next, a simple and effective modality to help reduce your risk for these injuries is called contrast therapy. Contrast therapy is alternating between heat and ice on an area of your body. For example, use a hot pack on your shoulder for approximately 10-15 minutes. Then, use an ice pack on your shoulder for approximately 10-15 minutes. Repeat this as often as you’d like, but always finish with ice!
The heat will aid in relaxing muscles, tendons, ligaments, and the AC joint capsule. The ice will reduce any inflammation that may be building up from long hours of gaming.
As with any physical activity, you should begin with a warm-up prior to the activity. After completing the activity, you should perform a cool down or stretching routine. During gaming, it is also important to take breaks!