What exactly is Upper Cross Syndrome and how do you know if you have it? It is a tightening of the muscles of your upper chest and anterior (front) neck and a weakening of the muscles in your upper back and posterior (rear) neck. It also includes a tightening of your upper trapezius, the muscles on the tops of your shoulders and the sub-occipital muscles, just beneath your skull, behind your head. Some of the signs and symptoms of upper cross syndrome are pain in the hands, arms, shoulders, neck, and upper back. Some visible signs of this syndrome are slumped posture with your shoulders rotating forward. Chronic neck, shoulder, and upper back pain are very common as this condition progresses. Onset of frequent tension headaches can also occur.
Becoming aware of your posture is crucial in reducing your risk of becoming prone to upper cross syndrome. The way you hold your spine during vigorous (or even leisurely) physical activity has a tremendous effect on your bones, muscles, tendons, nerves and joints. Also, someone who works at a desk or sits for a majority of the day and continuously exhibits poor posture can unknowingly create muscle imbalances that can have painful and visual consequences.
- Stand in a doorway with your arms at your sides. Grip the sides of the doorway at about hip level. Lean forward for two to five minutes at a time to stretch your fascia, the fibrous tissue in the chest and abdominal areas. Repeat this daily. This stretch is important because in individuals with forward shoulders, the fibrous tissue in these areas has usually been shortened over time and needs to be corrected through stretching.
- There are two floor stretches that will improve rounded shoulders. Properly execute the shoulder-abductor stretch by lying flat on your back with bent knees and arms extended straight above you. Slowly lower your arms to the floor on either side of your head, keeping them straight. Hold this for for 20 seconds. Do two sets of 12 repetitions.
- To do the kneeling lat stretch, get down on your hands and knees. With your head only a few inches away from a Swiss ball, reach out and extend one arm on the ball. Move the arm on the ball forward until you feel a slight tension in your shoulder. Hold for 20 seconds then move it inward in a diagonal until you feel a slight stretch. Repeat with the opposite arm. Do two sets of 12 repetitions.
- Do wall arm stretches, or “peel” stretches, to help correct your forward shoulders. Stand facing a wall and place your arm against it, your fingers and arm perpendicular to your body. Keep your shoulder and arm tight against the wall, rotate your body towards the wall behind you by moving your feet. When you feel a stretch in your chest muscles, hold the position for 20 seconds. Do the opposite side. When you can do the exercise at a right angle to the wall, move your arm up gradually to increase your flexibility. Do two sets of 12 repetitions.
Many people who suffer the effects of upper cross syndrome have benefited from bodywork sessions with massage therapists. If you’re experiencing neck and shoulder pain while working at your desk or when cycling, you may want to seek treatment from a bodywork specialist. At Hands on Health Asheville, massage therapists can use soft tissue massage and active release techniques in combination with some focused stretching and give additional helpful recommendations for strengthening exercises.