Upper crossed syndrome or USC is an imbalance in your upper body causing postural distortions centralized around your head and shoulders, which is caused by a combination of your major and minor pecs (chest muscles) and upper traps (muscles between your shoulders and neck) being too tight and overused, while your cervical flexors (muscles that hold the head up and back), lower traps and rhomboids (which hold your scapula aka shoulder blades in proper position) being weak and underused. This creates the “cross” pattern in Upper Crossed Syndrome with these two forces – a weakening and a tightening of certain muscles at the same time – which can lead at first to imbalance and joint dysfunction, which then can and will lead to pain, followed by injury.
UCS is usually caused by poor posture, which can happen for a number of reasons depending on the person. Since UCS is also known as “desk worker syndrome” and “forward head syndrome”, you might guess that it is caused by lots of sitting, and, in particular, sitting at a desk, which often requires a person to be hunched over and doing some task in this position for extended periods. This is why Upper Crossed Syndrome is found in people that work on computers a lot, or with anyone who might be found hunching over paperwork or studying at a desk. Sadly, we introduce this type of behaviour early on in the lives of our children, who are still taught to sit in desks all day. Later in life, sitting at desks all the time has a number of health risks associated with it.
If you haven’t gathered how a person with UCS might look yet, here are two of the main characteristics people exhibit when they have UCS. This will help you to diagnose whether you have it, and then take steps to either prevent or eliminate it from your life.
Hunched Back & Rounded Shoulders
This type of posture is due to a weakening of your sub-scapular muscles, which causes one’s shoulders to round forward and a curving of the spine. This results in having shoulders which elevate and round forward, as well as a hunched back.
This “forward head” is something we often see, where the head is pushed in front of the shoulders, forcing the line of sight to be aimed slightly downward towards the ground. As we have said, with the weakening of your deep cervical flexors and lower traps, your head sinks forward, and gets into a fixed position of poor posture which can lead to neck aches, head aches, and other types of pain.
If you don’t have it, you certainly don’t want to get it. There are basically two main ways to prevent yourself from getting Upper Crossed Syndrome that we can recommend to you right now.
One solution is to take preventative measures, before it starts to develop. Do not put yourself into a situation or lifestyle which always involves a lot sitting, aka the aforementioned desk job.
If you are sitting for 8 hours a day, every day, every week, well then, you’re likely to get some degree of UCS. Having a “sitting” or “sedintary” lifestyle is a poor long term strategy for your physical health, so don’t let yourself go in that direction if you can help it. Try to avoid circumstances that force you to be sitting a lot, whether it’s in front of a computer long periods of driving.
The only way to combat UCS is to do the right kinds of stretches. If you already have UCS, this is the path you must take. Stretching, in general, is undervalued and under-utilized. Learn to stretch properly and it will go a long way towards fixing and possibly curing your UCS.
If, for example, you do have such a job that requires a lot of sitting, then it will be necessary for you to do a lot of stretching to counteract what all that sitting is doing to your muscles and joints.
There are particular types of stretches that will help your body to avoid getting the symptoms of Upper Crossed Syndrome, and here is a video which shares some of those stretches with you.