Is Computer Work Causing Your Shoulder and Hip Pain?

Overuse on one side of the body can create muscular imbalance and pain.

The most common muscle pain complaint people contact me about is hip pain. Specifically right sided hip pain often accompanied by tightness in the ribs and waist on the same side.  There is invariably accompanying same side shoulder pain, usually on the top of the shoulder and into the neck. To top it off, 100% of those people sit at a computer almost all day. 

Many of these people have also experienced an accident or injury that has caused them to “cringe” and contract in a “trauma reflex.”  As many readers already know, the trauma reflex involuntarily contracts one side of the waist and trunk rotators, which results in a slight side bending and twisting of the waist muscles on one side of the body. This occurs due to the need to compensate for an injury or to avoid pain on one side of the body.

Take a moment and visualize sitting at your computer. Do you lean into your screen to see? Reach for your mouse by rounding the shoulder forward and collapsing slightly in your ribcage? If yes, then you can begin to understand where some of this hip pain might be coming from.

Look in the mirror. Does your posture like either of these photos?:

There’s a definite pattern to overuse on the computer, and the photos above show how specific it is. Look at the photo on the left and notice how the shoulder on the right side sits lower than the left shoulder. Look at the wrinkles in the woman’s shirt right under her armpit and shoulder blade. Those wrinkles are caused by tight muscles of the shoulder and waist pulling the shoulder down.

Look at the photo on the right. Notice the same effect, only this time from the front. The shoulder on the left side (the client’s right side) is pulling noticeably downward, causing the ribs to contract. Again, the telltale wrinkles in the shirt just under the armpit let you know that there are muscles tightening unconsciously all the time, while my client is standing “at ease.”

If you are collapsed and contracted in the center of the body, the muscles of the hip joint will also be tight.

Some studies say that between 70-90% of people are right handed, which means that most people working on computers are also “mousing” with their right arm – reaching, focusing muscularly with the right shoulder/arm/fingers, slumping slightly into one hip as they work with their mouse.

How does collapsing/slumping on one side of the body create hip pain?

The graphic on the right will help you understand: this shows the external oblique muscles (I call both sets of obliques the “waist muscles” to simplify things) that connect your ribs to your pelvis. The internal oblique muscles attach down into iliac crest of the pelvis. Both muscles help to twist the body and flex it laterally. They act like an accordion to bend the body to the side and like a “twist tie” to enable the torso to turn. They are instrumental in moving the hips up and down and stablizing the torso side to side.

If you habitually contract this muscle group, both the origin and the insertion of the muscles (the places where they connect on the skeleton) will become tight…all the way up into the ribs and down into the hip. The muscles will become “amnesic” at the level of the brain and nervous system (sensory motor amnesia, the root of most chronic muscle pain) and pain will develop. Learn to improve your awareness of your posture (and tendency to slouch to one side while at the computer), and methodically release the muscles to their original length and your pain will begin to diminish. It’s as simple as that.

If you are one of those people who works at a computer and experiences hip pain and/or same sided low back pain, there is hope. In my next post I will remind you of a few simple Somatic Exercises that will help you reverse this problem.

Click here  to purchase my Pain Relief Through Movement DVD or Pain-Free Legs and Hips DVD and learn to reverse your pain on your own. Or contact Martha for an online Skype session or one on one clinical session.

5 thoughts on “Is Computer Work Causing Your Shoulder and Hip Pain?

  1. Hello.
    For the first time, I find myself described as a patient. This is hard to believe. I just resigned from a job, sitting 10h a day behind a computer for several years, with an old, re-inflamed injury in my left ankle. I feel collapsed and contracted in the right side of my body, with ongoing hip, lower back and shoulder problems. My right leg is often tight and my body feels sort of twisted.
    I have tried yoga, meditation, qi gong, walking, running, swimming everything. But I have felt out-of-balance for a long time and haven’t been able to recover. So far nobody was able to tell me what my problem is. I have kept on blaming my mind/stress and even started to believe that something is severely and irreversibly wrong with me.
    This is the first time that I come across a reasonable explanation. I will have a look at your website and try to inform myself about your suggested exercises and training.
    Thank you.

    • Hi Katja,
      The reason no one has been able to help you is because they don’t know what to look for. Somatic Education is a paradigm shift- We understand that it is YOUR brain that responds to stress and teaches your muscles how to contract, release, move….or stay tight, painful and contracted.
      Your sensory motor system simply needs to be improved so that you can sense, feel and change what your central nervous system is doing.

      Hanna Somatics is education, not therapy, so we understand that only you can change the habituals patterns that you have developed over the years. These full body patterns contribute to the muscle pain and imbalance you’re experiencing.

      My suggestion is to purchase my “basics” DVD and begin to learn the basic Somatic Exercises that will teach you to release and relax the muscles of the back, waist and abdominals. This will help you EXPERIENCE the change that you and you alone can make in the way in which you sense, perceive and move your body.

      All the best,

  2. Hello! I am an active 42 year old female. I had surgery for a labral tear in 2009 and it was Fantastic! I had no pain at all after the surgery, did my physical therapy, and everything was great. I never even took pain medicine even once after the surgery. Then in 2011/2012 out of the blue I started having severe hip pain in that same hip. It was during a very stressful time in my life, and the pain wouldn’t stop. At the time I had much neck pain which caused headaches. Now I have read your book and have been doing your exercises from 3 of your DVDs for 4 weeks and I get relief right after I do them, but then it returns. I homeschool my children and sit quite a bit during the day and evening, but I also work out and cart the kids to and from activities, daily. It seems like the hip is weak as well as tight, and I am now aware of the tightness and can consciously release it, but there is still so much pain associated with even relaxing it. I can now tie my shoe, but it causes lots of pain. The leg would prefer to stay straight as I tie it! But the bend at the hip joint as I lean over causes the whole hip to tremble. To put my sock on cause adductor and abductor pain, and I have to lift the leg up with my hands. To try and just lift the leg so the thigh is parallel to the ground causes so much pain in the groin, and sometimes when I walk or run it tries to give out in the groin. My hips are never pulled forward, but always pull to the back so my rear end is arched. I played college level competitive volleyball, while attending The United States Military Academy, and served for 5 years in the US Army after I graduated. Although I always had dealt tight calves and hamstrings, during that time, I never had and pain. I know somatics is the answer, but what am I doing wrong?

    • Hi Elita,

      The only way I would know what you are “doing wrong” (and it might not be that at all!) is to see you moving. I would highly recommend setting up a Skype session with me so I can assess your posture, watch you walk, and watch you do the exercises you know. That way I am in a better position to advise you.

      One of the biggest mistakes people make in learning Somatic Exercises is that they do them as if they were exercises from the gym. They don’t realize that they’re not moving as slowly and with as much awareness as they could. MANY people do the exercises and aren’t aware that they still have a bit of sensory motor amnesia in certain ways. This can be part of the problem. This is what I can offer you by watching you and guiding you as only a skilled Somatic Educator can.

      When you say that your pain was “during a very stressful time…” that speaks volumes. Very often we tend to go back into our worst muscular holding patterns during emotional or physical stress. We take several steps backwards, if you will. Again, I can best help you one on one via Skype. Depending upon where you live I would also consider getting a few clinical Somatics sessions, which confer much more rapid and targeted help than doing Somatic Exercises on your own with a DVD.

      All the best,

  3. Martha, thank you so much for your response and the wonderful conversation that we hadlast night. I am scheduling my skype session now!

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