Although you may never have heard the term Upper Crossed Syndrome, you probably have seen or recognized it by a person’s posture. It is the most common muscular imbalance besides its counterpart, Lower Crossed Syndrome, for people who are sedentary and sit for the majority of the time at work.
It is probably the biggest factor in patients coming to Advanced Center For Pain And Rehab with neck, shoulder, mid-back and headache pain. It is easily recognized in people who have a forward head-and-chin-poking posture (think of a turtle neck), forward-rounded shoulders with a hunched upper back and tightness, and reduced mobility in the neck and back. This imbalance contributes to painful muscle adhesions, knots-trigger points, stress and tension in the joints in the neck and mid-back, and stress on the shoulders.
Simply put, Upper Crossed Syndrome is a weakening and lengthening of the mid-back (mid to lower trapezius) and muscles in the front part of the neck (deep-neck flexors), and a tightening and shortening of the opposing chest (pectoral) and neck muscles (upper trapezius, levator scapula). Think in terms of certain muscles becoming easily excited or contracted, and certain muscles going to sleep or inhibited. Picture a line drawn from your upper neck-and-shoulder region to the front part of your chest and a line from the mid-to-lower back to the front of your neck, and you get Upper Crossed Syndrome.
The most common cause of UCS is sedentary desk or computer work for prolonged periods of time with the head flexed forward, shoulders internally rounded, slouched posture, winging and elevation of the shoulder blades. In addition, physical inactivity or poor exercising technique, especially people who train the muscles in the front of their body such as their biceps, chest and shoulders, contribute to UCS.
These postural changes lead to abnormal stress and loads across joints in the neck and mid-back, causing spinal segments to become locked and stiff, and muscles to become tight, knotted and painful. Good motion is essential for the health and nutrition of discs and joints because it permits the exchange of nutrients, fluid and wastes. Without movement, disc and joints may degenerate or wear out quickly.
The correction of this problem involves the strengthening of the weak muscles in the mid-back and front part of neck. To strengthen these muscles, a person must learn to fire or “wake up” the mid-to-lower trapezius and rhomboids. The first step is to learn how to set the shoulders. In a standing or sitting position, tuck or retract your chin and pull your shoulder blades down and back by thinking about pulling or sticking your shoulder blades in your back pocket.
Another way is called Bruegger’s Relief position. Sit with your buttocks at the end of a chair and rock your pelvis forward, slightly arching your back. Now spread your legs apart with toes slightly outward and arms at side, palms facing up. Retract your chin and then squeeze your shoulder blades back and down. Do this every 20 minutes while sitting for 20 to 30 seconds, breathing through your abdomen.
To strengthen the muscles in the front part of your neck, take a tennis ball or use your fist to place under your chin and push downward toward your chest, holding for 10 seconds for 10 to 12 reps. You can also try this while lying on your back and again using your fist or a tennis ball and pushing toward the chest while gently raising your head off the floor 1 to 2 inches.
To stretch the chest muscles, stand in an open doorway and raise your hands out to your sides to shoulder level. Bend your elbows and point your fingers toward the ceiling. Put your forearms against the door frame and lean forward until you feel a stretch across your chest. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, repeating two to three times.
To stretch the upper trapezius, sit in a chair and clasp your hands behind your back and tilt and rotate your head to the left looking toward your underarm. Repeat on other side. Another way would be to grasp the side of the chair with your right arm, raise the left arm up and over your head, and grab the right ear. Pull your head toward the left, turning your head to the right and looking upward. Again repeat on the other side. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds for two to three times.
We must condition ourselves to perform these exercises daily or at the very least while sitting for prolonged periods of time. By combining chiropractic adjustments and specific exercises, we can successfully treat Upper Crossed Syndrome.
Watch Dr. Venturini's video on Upper Crossed Syndrome.