I’m guessing that you don’t dedicate too much time to thinking about arm rests. But if you find yourself suffering aching, throbbing, or burning pain around your shoulders and/or neck while sitting, you should probably give them a lot more consideration.
When you sit with your arms unsupported– whether dangling by your side or held at desk level–they literally hang from your shoulders. Their weight tugs on the muscles of both your shoulder and neck [Fig 1], and although you don’t consciously tell them to, those muscles work very diligently to hold your limbs onto your body. It might not seem like a sizable task–merely supporting your arms– but having to do that relentlessly hour after hour, day after day is a lot to ask of any muscle. As all muscles do when they contract for too long, those shoulder/neck muscles eventually accumulate lactic acid. That acid build up contributes to that painful muscle burning you feel after a while.
Using arm rests to support the weight of your arms will give your shoulder muscles a break and make a world of difference. However, like clothes, chairs need to fit the person in them. Arm rests should be high enough for the arm to naturally rest on them without having to reach down and low enough that the shoulder is not pushed upward when the arm is resting on it.
FH TIP: Give your shoulder and neck muscles a break….Use arm rests as much as possible when sitting at your desk, holding a book, or driving your car (hands on the steering wheel doesn’t count), and make sure they are adjusted for a proper “fit.”