Upper Cross Syndrome - What is it & How Can it be Prevented?

What is Upper Cross Syndrome?

How many of you star your day with a long car ride followed by sitting at a desk for 8-10 hours? Then cycling through this 5-6 times a week? Sitting and a sedentary lifestyle are major culprits of neck and upper back pain, most commonly called Upper Cross Syndrome (UCS). In UCS we see patterns of muscles imbalance and poor posture. Muscles imbalance is seen with alternating groups of tight and weak muscles. The tight muscles could include upper trapezius, levator scapulae, suboccipitals, and pectorals. The weak muscles could include rhomboids, lower trapezius, and neck flexors. This means there is weakening and lengthening of the posterior upper back and anterior neck muscles along with tightening and shortening of the opposing posterior neck and chest muscles. This imbalance can accelerate poor posture leading to anterior head carriage (AHC) and internally rotated shoulders. Thus, sitting like this for however long throughout your day can equate to pain and/or dysfunction. Particularly at major segments in your cervical spine (neck), mid-thoracic spine (upper back), and gleno-humeral (shoulder) joint. 


How can we fix the problem?

First, we basically want to strengthen what is weak and relax what is tight. Part of this process is made simple by learning a few strengthening exercises and relaxing stretches you can do at home or even in the office. The strengthening exercises include Deep Neck Flexor Activation, Seated Rows, and Standing Pulls, and the stretches include, Bruggers, Seated Thoracic Extension/Thoracic Extension with a foam roller, and Doorway Pec Stretch. If done regularly and properly, these exercises can have positive, long term effects on your symptoms, and the great news is that we teach patients how to do these exercises everyday in our offices! In conjunction with strengthening and stretching, spinal manipulation can be a useful tool for relief of UCS. It will help release those restricted areas, increase range of motion, relax the soft tissue, and inhibit pain. The combination of proper exercises and spinal manipulation has been proven to be very effective in countering the effects of UCS. 


Strengthening and stretching will help assist your posture while driving and sitting at work, but not 100%. It is important to be mindful of your body and workstation positioning. I like to tell people to imagine "putting your shoulder blades into your back pocket." Meaning, keeping your shoulders back and down. Use of low back support to maintain that normal curvature in your lumbar spine should be used at all times. If you don't have a lumbar roll/support (which can be purchased in our offices), rolling up a towel and placing it in the small of your back should do the trick. Looking down with your eyes instead of looking down with your neck will help reduce the stress placed on your spine. Refrain from having the screen off to the side, and turning your neck in one direction for extended periods of time. Standing desks are becoming more and more common in the work place and should be taken advantage of if available. Avoid sitting for longer than 20-30 minutes by taking frequent postural breaks and walk around for 1-2 minutes, providing your body with a change in prolonged positioning. 

Bringing it all together

UCS is becoming more common with the amount of time people spend sitting throughout their day. We need to move more. Aside from a change in career - which is not likely for most people, these tools can help with relief. We see the effects of sedentary lifestyles ever day in our offices; headaches, neck pain, back pain, fatigue, joint dysfunction, weight gain, the list goes on; and we know how important increased movement is in relieving the symptoms. It's time to make a change and to prioritize feeling better. We can help. We want to get you back to your favorite activities and to get you feeling your best. You just have to take the first step - give us a call! 

Yours in Health, 

Ross Dubin, D.C.
Morrison Chiropractic, P.A.
Ellicott City, MD