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  • Writer's pictureLauren Burnham

Upper Crossed Syndrome

Does this picture look like you right now?  Then sit up and read this!

What is it?

With Upper Crossed syndrome the muscles of the shoulders, neck, and chest have become deformed. Specifically, the back muscles of the neck and shoulders (upper trapezius, and levator scapula) become extremely overactive and strained. The muscles in the front of the chest (the major and minor pectoralis muscles) become shortened and tight.

As a result of these overactive muscles, the surrounding counter muscles become underused and weakened. In upper crossed syndrome, this causes weak muscles in the front of the neck (cervical flexor muscles) and in the lower shoulders (rhomboid and lower trapezius muscles). The condition gets its name from the "x" shape that develops when regions of overactive and underactive muscles overlap.

What are the causes?    

Poor posture can be a cause of upper crossed syndrome.

Different movements can cause upper crossed syndrome, but most cases develop through poor posture, specifically sitting or standing with the head forward for prolonged periods.

Activities that promote this postural position include:

  • computer and laptop use

  • driving

  • watching TV

  • cellphone browsing, texting, app, or game use

  • reading

  • biking

In some cases, injury or congenital disabilities may also contribute to the development or creation of the condition.

What are the symptoms?

Common characteristics of upper crossed syndrome include:

  • the head is consistently or often in a forward position

  • inward curvature in the portion of the spine containing the neck (increased cervical lordosis)

  • outward curvature in the part of the spine that includes the upper back, shoulders, and chest (increased thoracic kyphosis)

  • elevated, protracted, or rounded shoulders, where the muscles are in a continuous state of being pulled or stretched forward

  • the visible portion of the shoulder blade sits out instead of laying flat (scapula winging)

The deformed muscles associated with upper cross syndrome put stress on the surrounding muscles, tendons, bones, and joints, causing most people develop symptoms that include:

  • headache

  • neck pain

  • strain in the back of the neck and often a weakness in the front

  • chest pain and tightness

  • pain in the upper back, especially the shoulders

  • sore shoulder blades

  • pain in the jaws

  • tiredness

  • difficulty sitting, reading, and watching TV

  • driving for more than a short period because of pain or muscle tightness or soreness

  • restricted range of motion in the neck or shoulders

  • numbness, tingling, and pain in the upper arms

  • pain and reduced range of motion in the ribs

  • lower back pain

What can you do about it?

Massage for relaxation and pain relief as frequent as needed.

Watch these short videos for information and exercises to do everyday:

Improvement will take time; after all, it took you years to develop this posture.  Start now and sit up straight!

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