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Upper Cross Syndrome Crossing You Up?


These days, it seems like all we do is sit. From driving to work, to sitting at your desk at work, to then driving back home. It has become difficult to escape the constant loop of sitting and I bet you feel the consequences (I certainly do). One of the aforementioned “consequences” is something known as upper cross syndrome.


Upper cross syndrome is not a medical diagnosis because it is not a disease or an injury per se, but it can certainly feel not so nice. Essentially, the upper trapezius and levator scapula become hypertonic which crosses with the hypertonicity of the pectoralis major and minor. This is coupled with weakness of the deep cervical neck flexors crossing with weakness of the middle and lower trapezius combining to create “upper cross syndrome.” This cross between muscle tightness in the front and muscle weakness in the back results in:

  • Forward head posture

  • Upper back rounding

  • Elevated and forward shoulders

  • Winging of the shoulder blades


The imbalance of these muscles causes the tissue to change in length and sometimes even structural make-up, leading to improper movement patterns. The repetitive improper movements in your daily life can cause side effects of pain and inflammation. Due to the nature of this syndrome, the shoulder blade is raised and pushed forward which creates a trickle effect to the upper back rounding and the head moving forward. The imbalance can make you more susceptible to further injuries around the neck, upper back, and shoulders. Some symptoms that this can all lead to include:

  • Headaches

  • Jaw pain

  • Pain, numbness, and tingling in the arms

  • Fatigue

  • Neck, upper back, and shoulder pain


This all sounds like a lot and it can be a difficult concept to grasp with so many moving parts. Overall, exercises that strengthen the lower part of the upper back and the front of the neck will help improve this syndrome and regain muscle balance. Since these muscles are weak, they are not doing their part posturally and should be strengthened so they can start taking on that roll again. Below are some exercise examples:

Beginner

  • Laying on your back on a foam roll in a W arm position to a Y arm position

  • Side lying external rotation

  • Military press

Progression:

  • Standing external rotation with a band

  • Sitting single arm row

  • Single arm pull downs

*You can check out our instagram post from November 27, 2023 to see the videos for these exercises.

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