Upper Crossed Syndrome Exposed

Long before computers and smart phones, humans were much more active than present day. We no longer have to walk far distances, track and hunt our food or work in the fields or mines. We have become slaves to the screen whether it is for work or pleasure, and now our bodies are paying for it. The human body is a hyper-adaptive machine and will form to whatever environment it is exposed to the most; good or bad.  This mean that as we spend hours on end in a seated position while expressing poor posture, our body will begin to form into the posture of a shrimp.

Upper crossed syndrome (UCS) consists of tightness of upper trapezius and levator scapula on the upper back and the chest muscles (pectoralis major and minor). The body will also demonstrate weakness in the neck and mid and upper back. This is expressed as someone having forward head and shoulders. The main areas affected by UCS. When these muscles are not stimulated by activity, they are subjected to weakness and atrophy. Someone who carries UCS is more prone to injuries in their neck, shoulders, and upper back.

Not only does USC influence the anatomy, but it also affects the physiology. When the shoulders are rounded and chest is caved in, your lungs cannot fully inflate which is a symptom of the fight or flight response. Even though there is not a bear coming around the corner, your body will be under a constant state of stress as if there was one. The heart rate elevates, breathing is sped up and even the stress hormone cortisol is released into the blood stream. But it is not all doom and gloom when it comes to UCS. Proper exercise and awareness can help correct this shrimp posture. We will dive in how to address UCS through flexibility, mobility, and strengthening.

Flexibility

Flexibility is also know as stretching and being able to move into greater ranges of motion. When looking at UCS, you will typically find tightness in the neck, chest, and front of the shoulders. You can find relief in the chest and front of the shoulders by laying on a foam roller down the length of the spine. You then pull your shoulder blades together into the foam roller and pull your elbows and hands towards the ground. Typically, when it comes to flexibility, stretches should be hold for about 20-30 seconds to achieve a stretch. To relieve tightness in the neck, you simply retract the shoulder blades and GENTLY pull one ear to the respective shoulder.

Mobility

Not to confused with flexibility, mobility offers tremendous value in correcting posture and even preventing injury. Mobility is active in nature while flexibility is passive. When preforming mobility exercises, you move a specific joint to a certain range of motion and tense up the muscles around the joint at the end range. Now, I am a mobility junky and recommend that it is incorporated into everyone’s exercise regimen no matter what your fitness goals are.

When looking at the shoulders, I am most partial to wall presses, shoulder dislocates (not as daunting as it sounds) and wall circles. In a wall press, you stand up against the wall with your heels, hips, shoulders, and head against the wall. Then you place your elbows and hands on the wall in a “goal post” position while pressing your body into the wall to make it flat.

For shoulder dislocates, you will use a broomstick. Place your hands palm down on the stick while squeezing your shoulder blades together and down. Then you bring the stick up over head and then behind your body without bending your elbows, shrugging your shoulders, lunging your head forward, and avoid losing tension.

In a wall circle, you imagine that there is a clock drawn on the wall. You will then kneel next to the wall and place the back of your hand on the wall at the six o’clock position. You will the slide your hand to each number on the clock while pressing your handing into the wall for ten seconds at each number. Once you get the 12 o’clock position, flip your hand over to the palm.

Strengthening

Now that you understand how to address tightness and lack of mobility, it is time to dive into the exercises that will get posture to stick through strength training. When looking at clients with UCS, I first address strength in the upper and mid-back. One of my most favorite exercises is banded rows. To perform a banded row, you will need to attach a resistance band to something secure such as a post, table leg or door anchor. Once you have done that, you will sit on a chair or exercise ball or standing in a staggered stance with your arms straight out in front of the body. Keeping your body upright, begin to pull your elbows to the body and squeeze the shoulder blades back and down. Squeeze and hold the end range of the movement before slowly returning to the starting position.

Other exercises such as banded pull-a-parts and external rotations, prone cobra and chin tucks are all great exercises that also address the weakness that comes with UCS. When performing correctional strength training exercises, I use the rule of thumb of completing two to three sets of 10-15 reps with a three to five second squeeze at the end range of each movement. Correctional exercises tend to perform well with frequency, so this mean perform every day throughout the week.

Now that you have a completed your crash course on UCS, your bad posture will soon be a thing of the past. Take your time on addressing the tightness and weakness in the shoulders, chest, back and neck. There you will find that any aches and pains your may have will soon start to improve. Finally, I want to encourage everyone to get up and move as often as possible. This means taking breaks throughout the workday to get up and go for short walks and/or stretch. Humans were made to move, not stay hunched over in chairs.

Useful Videos:

Three Way Door Chest Stretch:

Wall Circle:

Wall Test:

Shoulder Dislocates:

Banded Pull-A-Parts:

Banded External Rotations:

Banded Rows:

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