From troublesome customers to foot fatigue, cashiers are on their feet all day in retail or sitting down in banks or supermarkets, which makes them susceptible to cashier back pain, foot injuries, repetitive strain injuries, and other common injuries. But some of the worst pain can happen when cashiers get a shoulder injury. What causes cashier shoulder pain and how can I prevent it?
Let’s first understand how the shoulder works
The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint with a wide range of motion. Shoulder issues often hamper one’s ability to move freely since the muscles are interconnected with the humerus (long arm bone), the clavicle (collarbone), and the scapula (shoulder blade). These bones are cushioned by cartilage and connected by joints, with the shoulder joint being the body’s most mobile joint as a result of the rotator cuff; it has the ability to move both back and forth, in a circular motion, and up and away from the body. If the tendons in the rotator cuff are injured or swollen, it can be difficult to lift your arm above your head.
Now, here’s how cashier shoulder pain can start…
Repetitive motion can injure your shoulder because repeating the same movements causes inflammation in the body and damage to the soft tissues such as muscles, nerves, tendons, and tendon sheaths. The soft tissue damage can lead to bigger shoulder injuries if not treated, or alternatives to repetitive motions aren’t considered. Try alternating tasks and arms to avoid repetitive motion. If something hurts, try not to repeat the action causing pain. See your doctor if pain persists.
Lifting objects continuously can cause pain or discomfort in the shoulder. You may have to lift, say, a watermelon up to a weighing scale, and doing that even ten times a day can cause injury if not done properly. Lifting can also cause dislocations where the humerus pulls from the shoulder socket. Any lifting, especially overhead, can make the shoulder prone to injury. Make sure you do not lift items above your head and keep any lifting close to the body. It’s difficult, however, when cashiers have to move items over the scanners repeatedly. Keep correct lifting techniques in mind when moving heavy objects. Try and scan larger items with the handheld scanner instead of lifting it over the till scanner.
Rotator Cuff Tendinitis
This condition is caused by inflamed tendons, which affects the tendons and muscles that move the shoulder joint. It’s often caused by keeping the shoulder in one position over time, such as sleeping on your shoulder, or doing activities that require lifting your arm over your head. As a cashier, you already increase the likelihood of having shoulder injuries, so make sure to limit motions that will place your arm above your head. Try sleeping on your back to avoid damaging your shoulder further.
Rotator Cuff Tear
With frequent use, rotator cuff tendons can become inflamed. Again, jobs with repeated overhead motions can cause damage. Rest often repairs a torn rotator cuff as well as medicine for swelling. If you have a torn rotator cuff ask for an alternate job if possible than repetitive action, or try and limit motions that will cause inflammation.
Neck or Bicep Injury
Shoulder pain can result from injuries from other locations such as in the neck or bicep, which is called referred pain. Swaying arms back and forth when scanning products can cause damage to your arms, neck, and shoulders. Again, try and be mindful of your body position when repeating actions. Try doing shoulder circles to release the tension in your neck or stretching for biceps. Strengthening the muscles in these areas through lifting or yoga can help create correct posture, and create enough muscle mass to prevent or stave off injury.
Cashiers can easily pinch nerves in the neck or shoulder, which causes prolonged pain until the nerve is released. Inflammation can put pressure on nerve roots causing pain as well. Stretching and yoga can help with pinched nerves. Between customers, regular stretching can help your muscles stay warm which will prevent injury. If you have a pinched nerve, take anti-inflammatory medicines (after consulting your doctor), and you may use physical therapy to help.
What Do Studies Say?
Studies show that shoulder pain - and injuries in general - are increasingly common amongst cashiers. PubMed published an article, “Women performing repetitive work: is there a difference in the prevalence of shoulder pain and pathology in supermarket cashiers compared to the general female population?” studying cashiers with shoulder pain versus a control group from non-cashiers. The findings noted that shoulder pain in the developed world causes a medical and socio-economic impact. In the European Union, 23% of cashiers report neck and shoulder pains with 8.2% in Ireland, and 53.3% in Finland. The general population only reported 25.5% shoulder injuries from any means with almost 46.6% of cashiers reporting shoulder injuries and pain with only a low probability of injury on the dominant side, which is staggering.
Since scanners were introduced in the mid-1970s, 30-50% of cashiers reported arm, shoulder, neck, wrist, or back pain, often requiring medical intervention. Ongoing studies in England, Japan, Sweden, Spain, and the United States confirmed that there were ongoing workplace health problems for workers who used scanners.
The British Medical Journal in their article “Incidence of shoulder pain in repetitive work,” notes that rotator cuff syndrome and shoulder tendinitis were common in many industries including supermarket cashiers. The studies conducted in 1993-1994 of workers exposed to repetitive work noted that carpal tunnel syndrome and upper limb disorders were prevalent with supermarket cashiers amongst the most affected group because of additional variables such as bending forward, and moving arms above shoulder level. A staggering number of younger people - between 30 to 50 - had shoulder injuries in the supermarket cashier group.
Most studies acknowledge that few studies had been done then, nor have they been done since. The full occupational impact on cashiers hasn’t been discussed.
Don’t forget to wear the appropriate footwear
Having the right shoes for your feet can create proper alignment in your body, which reduces the risk of injuries. It’s important that cashiers are comfortable, and whilst you may not be able to eliminate every risk, wearing safe, slip-resistant shoes is a way to reduce one major risk - the risk of slips, trips, and falls. Make sure to wear non-slip footwear to get you home safely.
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