Sitting at a desk all day may mean you’re conscious of poor posture. You’ll know it can lead to headaches, muscle pain, stress and more. You may therefore be familiar with “Upper Crossed Syndrome “without even knowing it.
It’s not a serious condition but it can give rise to headaches, migraines, joint pain, muscle pain and stress. If you’re a keen gym-goer, it can also prevent you being able to reach your optimal training threshold.
What is Upper Crossed Syndrome?
It’s caused by overlapping overactive and underactive muscles throughout the neck, chest and shoulders. The chest muscles (pectorals) and muscles at the rear or side of the neck (upper trapezius, levator scapulae, suboccipitals and sternocleidomastoid) are overly tight or “facilitated”. The deep flexor muscles in the front of the neck and the rhomboids, lower trapezius and serratus anterior muscles are weak or inhibited.
A chap called Janda coined the term “Upper Crossed Syndrome”. According to his book “Assessment and Treatment of Muscle Imbalance: The Janda Approach” Upper Crossed Syndrome can lead to…..
“Dysfunction, particularly at the atlanto-occipital joint, C4-C5 segment, cervicothoracic joint, glenohumeral joint, and T4-T5 segment. Postural changes decrease glenohumeral stability as the glenoid fossa becomes more vertical due to serratus anterior weakness leading to abduction, rotation, and winging of the scapulae. This loss of stability requires the levator scapula and upper trapezius to increase activation to maintain glenohumeral centration (Janda 1988).”
You can see how a simple matter of muscular imbalance can lead to a range of issues.
What causes it?
This is caused by a build up of small issues, such as:
- Prolonged sitting at a desk then causes forward head carriage.
- Poor technique when training (such as overtraining the chest and neglecting the mid-back) affects the chest and upper back.
- Having a large bust contributes to rounded shoulders.
What are the signs and symptoms?
- Forward head carriage- when looking at yourself side-on in a mirror, your ear should be in line with your shoulder. If it’s not, it’s what we call forward head carriage.
- Increased inward curvature of the cervical spine (hyperlordosis).
- Increased outward curvature of the thoracic spine (hyperkyphosis or “humpback”) . Tight muscles in the front of the chest pull you forwards, weak muscles in the upper back can’t resist the pull. Add in forward head carriage and you can end up with hyperkyphosis. In some cases, the neck can look normal because we simply overextend through the neck to hold the head up properly!
- Breathing dyfsunction caused by over-activated muscles and compression of the rib cage.
- Rounded shoulders and rotator cuff issues- Muscular imbalances affect the function of the shoulder joint. Due to the imbalance, rotator cuff muscles then have to work harder to stabilise the shoulder joint. This can ultimately lead to shoulder impingement and rotator cuff strain.
- Winging of the scapula- the shoulder blades jut out instead of lying flat against the ribcage.
- Chronic pain caused by trigger points (tender points) in the affected muscles.
- Migraines and tension headaches due to tension in the surrounding muscles and dysfunction in the cervical and thoracic spine.
- Pins and needles or tingling in the arms- Rounded shoulders and forward head carriage can compress the blood vessels or nerves in the space between your collarbone and first rib.
The affected muscles have a lower threshold for irritation and dysfunction. This means they very quickly become affected by faulty movement, leading to more pain and problems. As a result this puts stress on the involved joints, leading to further pain. As you can see, poor posture is contagious. Not like a bad cold shared around the office… Instead it starts in one area and then affects another, which in turn affects another.
How can we treat Upper Crossed Syndrome and Poor Posture?
Your chiropractor will work with you to restore normal function to your upper back and neck. If underlying joint function is abnormal, exercising in this state may simply cause the muscles to adapt to the underlying dysfunction. (For more on this, read our stretching blog here.) This is why joint function must be restored first and foremost. Gentle stretches and exercises can then help relieve tension and strengthen the weaker muscles.
Here’s a video on our one simple way to improve your posture at the desk.
Begin with the chin tuck exercise. This ultimately counteracts forward head carriage.
- Stand upright with your back to wall.
- Slightly tuck chin to chest and draw head back to wall.
- The muscles in the front of the neck should be active when holding this position for 5-10 seconds.
You may feel some stretching of the scalene muscles on the side of the neck that go down to the collarbone. You may also notice the suboccipital muscles at the top of the neck and the base of the skull. This exercise begins to strengthen the muscles in the front of the neck and muscles of the upper back.
You can do this exercise lying down in bed, pushing back into a pillow. Once you get the hang of it, you can then do it standing upright. You’ll soon be able to do this whilst sitting in the car or at your desk at work. Repeating the exercise throughout the day will also help improve your posture over time.
Chiropractic care can help to restore normal joint movement and alleviate muscle stress. As part of your treatment programme, you’ll be given further specific exercises to help address muscle tension and restore joint function.
To book your appointment with our chiropractor, simply use the link below.