Last week I shared with you stretches to relieve a slouchy posture. I briefly spoke about the two types of upper-body posture problems — excessive forward head lean and rounded shoulders. This week I want to go in greater detail about this dilemma called Upper Cross Syndrome (UCS) because it’s damaging your health.
What is Upper Cross Syndrome (UCS)
Also called Upper Crossed Syndrome, UCS is a condition where there is a muscle imbalance pattern in the head and shoulder regions. This condition is seen most often in those who work at a desk or who spend most of their day continuously in a position of poor posture.
With Upper Cross Syndrome, you can feel tightness in the levator scapula and upper trapezius (muscles you use to shrug). You will experience weakness in the scalines (muscles that helps you bend your head side to side) and sternocleidomastoid muscle (muscles that help you turn your head and extend your neck.) You will also suffer weakness in your rhomboids, lower trapezius, and serratus anterior (muscles that move and stabilize your shoulder blades).
All these imbalances lead to joint dysfunction especially in the upper neck, upper spine, and shoulder joints.
What does this mean?
It means that when a group of 4 to 5 muscles becomes too tight it can cause a chain reaction that leads to instability and dysfunction of the shoulder, which eventually leads to pain and injury.
How to Identify Upper Cross Syndrome
If you have the following symptoms you may have UCS:
- Elevated & protracted shoulders (rounded shoulders) – This is when your chest muscles are so tight and the muscles between and below your shoulder blades are not strong enough to hold your shoulders back so instead they round forward.
- Excessive forward head lean – Your head juts forward of your shoulders so it seems you are always looking down and not forward. Looking forward may also be difficult and painful.
- Increased thoracic kyphosis and lumbar lordosis – This is when you’re upper-back is hunchbacked or looks like you’re always in a slouching posture and when your lower back is curved more than normal. It may in fact be difficult to stand straight.
- Rotation or abduction – The shoulder-blade (scapula bones) is moving away from the body so when you look at it from the side, you get the ‘wing effect’ , also known as winged-scapula.
If you have one or more of the symptoms, it can indicate your shoulder(s) are unstable and that means that you are at risk for injury. Overcompensation — when certain areas are working harder or not working at all because of dysfunction — can cause permanent damage.
Besides looking unpleasant when you walk around, when you have UCS it can affect your health both in the short-term and long-term.
Short-term, poor upper-body posture promotes improper breathing making your lungs and heart work harder. This can lead to shallow breathing, dizziness, and anxiety like symptoms. Bad posture hinders proper digestion making you susceptible to digestive problems such as heartburn, bloating, and slow bowel movement. As your organs work harder — to help you breathe, distribute blood, and digest food — they age faster.
You can also end up with some types of nerve pain in your neck that radiates into your arm(s). You can suffer headaches and rotator cuff problems. In the long-term, a person with UCS may face joint deterioration.
The good news is that you can prevent, make better, and even reverse the effects of years of ‘bad posture’ by paying attention to your body positioning now.
It’s not too late to stand taller, have less tension in your neck and chest area, and to stop the onset of chronic pain. Choose to support your ageless body — a body free of pain and disease — by improving your posture.
What You Can Do About Upper Cross Syndrome
If you have UCS, the shortened muscles will need to be restored before embarking on training the weakened muscles. You will need to learn the proper placement of your shoulders so you don’t continue to cause the same problem. You will need to pay attention to what your upper-back, shoulders, and neck muscles are doing on a daily basis.
Be aware of your movements and make sure you are not repeating the position that is causing the problem in the first place. You may need rehabilitation depending on how far your injury has progressed.
Corrective Exercise Specialists, physical therapists, and chiropractors are the best therapists to help fix this problem. Your therapist will work with you to correct the problem by creating a corrective exercise program that will release the tension in the tight muscles, engage the inactive muscles, and strengthen the weak muscles.
As a corrective exercise specialist, I have designed a posture program that will help improve poor posture such as UCS. I recommend trying my Better Posture in 30 Days program.
It’s a simple, effective, step-by step system of exercises geared to improve overall posture. If you’ve tried other systems or watched all the YouTube videos and still have not seen the results you want, perhaps it’s time to use a custom program.
Watch this video for stretches to improve some UCS issues.
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‘What is Upper Cross Syndrome’ originally published in InspireHappy.com