Shoulder Health for Developers

At my first team meetup for Automattic, I gave a flash talk on shoulder health. I’m the only US-born person on my team, and they made sure to point out how American this disclaimer is, but here it is anyways:

I’m not a doctor. Don’t take this article as medical advice. These are things that have helped me, but you need to listen to your body.

What happens to our shoulders when we work at a desk?

If we’re not careful about our set-up and posture, we’re prone to slump forward while working, and specifically, sitting.

Pick up your phone and look at it, as if you’re checking your email. Now, on the arm you’re holding your phone with, note the position your shoulder is in.

Very likely, your shoulder is rotated forwards. This is the same position we’re generally in while working over a laptop. Slumped forwards a bit with our shoulders internally rotated.

What happens to our bodies?

Our bodies are amazing at compensating for the positions we put ourselves in, even if this position is bad in the long run.

  • Pectoralis Minor shortens.
  • Humerus internally rotates and sits at the front of the shoulder joint.
  • Back muscles lengthen.
  • Scapulae rotate forwards.
  • Likely, you’ll end up in a chin-forwards position as well.

What’s wrong with this?

The big ones are:

  • Weakened shoulder mobility / pain. You want your shoulders to last 100 years, not 50.
  • Shoulder impingement (where tendons and nerves get pinched by the bones in your shoulder).

How can we address it?

A quick note on stretches and exercises.

  • If it pinches, STOP.
  • If it tingles, STOP. You don’t want to mess with nerves.
  • Start slow. Your body will yell at you if you go too hard, too much, too fast at once. Let it adapt to doing new things so you don’t get set-back before you even start.

Exercises and Stretches

How can we prevent it?

  • Standing desk
  • Knowing how to properly stand (Video contains the word, s***, but otherwise is a great video on how to stand at a desk properly): Ankles, hips, shoulders, ears all in-line. Shoulders externally rotated and down back.
  • Proper desk set-up: Keyboard and mouse at a proper height with elbows bent and shoulders externally rotated. Monitor at a neutral (eye-level) or slightly looking-up posture.
  • Move! Every 25 – 30 minutes, take a break, stretch, exercise and return.


  • Egoscue Method: Active postural alignment
  • Mobility WOD: Short, informal mobility exercises/stretches for improving flexibility

2 responses to “Shoulder Health for Developers”

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