How Sitting Affects Your Shoulders

Thanks to the addition of more electronic devices, we are spending more time sitting as a society. In fact, Matthews revealed American’s are sedentary for 60% of their waking hours. Are you more or less active than the average? Think about the amount of hours you spend sitting each week. For example: if you work at a computer for 40 hours a week, that is 160 hours per month and 1,920 hours a year! That doesn’t even include time spent driving to and from work, eating, sitting to watch TV, or sitting to read your favorite book.

While it may seem like I am telling you to never sit again, I assure you, that is not the case. I just want you to be aware of how prolonged sitting can affect your body. We have all found ourselves slouched over the keyboard and we wonder why our neck and shoulders are constantly bothering us. Sitting in a slouched position causes the upper back to bend forward, ultimately changing the position of the shoulder blades as they tip forward and wrap outwards to accommodate a slouch. Over time, slouching will alter how our shoulder blades move. One study reported that by simply having subjects sit up tall as opposed to slouching, it significantly improved their ability to lift their arm overhead (1).

Sitting in a slouched posture will decrease the “subacromial space,” the space between the shoulder blade and upper arm bone. The rotator cuff muscles lie within this space. As the space decreases, it can lead to increased pressure and rubbing on the rotator cuff. After several weeks months or even years of this rubbing, it causes “wear and tear” on the rotator cuff, leading to pain.

Sitting alone won’t cause this breakdown, but poor posture will. The good news is you can start to improve your posture right at your desk! While good posture will not happen overnight, try these three simple exercises to keep your neck and shoulders happy while you take back control of how you sit.

Military Posture:

Instructions: You can do this exercise sitting or standing. Pull shoulders back to squeeze shoulder blades together and down.
Hold for 5 seconds
Repeat 20 times
1-2 times per day
Thoracic Turning:

Instructions: Reach across your body with your right hand to turn to your left. Reach across your body with your left hand to turn to your right
Alternate side to side
Repeat 15 times
1-2 times per day
Chin Tuck:

Instructions: Sit with your head and shoulders in contact with the wall. Keep your head in contact with the wall as you slide the back of your head up the wall and tuck your chin towards your chest.
Hold for 2-3 seconds
Repeat 15 times
1-2 times per day

If you are dealing with shoulder pain, click the link below to schedule your free discovery visit with a physical therapist at Buffalo Rehab Group.

1. Matthews, Charles E, et al. “Amount of Time Spent in Sedentary Behaviors in the United States, 2003–2004.” American Journal of Epidemiology, vol. 167, no. 7, Apr. 2008, pp. 875–881.
2. Lewis JS. Subacromial Impingement Syndrome: The Effect of Changing Posture on Shoulder Range of Movement. Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy. 2005. doi:10.2519/jospt.2005.1578.