Do you sit at a desk all day? Do you drive home only to eat, read, and relax while sitting down?
The world has moved into the direction of constantly living life while sitting down, from business being done almost entirely on computers and paper, to the TV as the primary form of entertainment in the household.
What is this doing to us in a musculoskeletal sense? This tendency is causing a flexion-dominant society that is wrecking our shoulders, necks and backs!
One of the consequences of this is “upper crossed syndrome.”
WHAT IS UPPER CROSSED SYNDROME?
Upper crossed syndrome occurs when a flexion-dominant society creates equal pairs of turned off and turned on neck, shoulder and chest muscles.
As you can see from the picture above, a weak cervical flexor in the neck, caused by the neck muscles constantly being “turned off” causes a weak lower trapezius muscle. As your neck is bent down, such as while working at a desk, your trapezius muscles tighten and constrict the movement of your scapula. In conjunction, tight sub-occipitals or upper trapezius muscles cause tight pectoral muscles. As your pecs are tight, it causes your neck to fall and tighten up. The sub-occipitals will tighten around the nerves at the base of your skull and cause tension headaches. Most of the headaches that occur are caused by this.
This tendency comes from poor sitting positions and prolonged sitting, which in turn causes a worsening of UCS, which in turn causes worse posture. It truly is a vicious, constant cycle.
Symptoms of UCS include:
- Forward head posture
- Rounded shoulders
- A hunched upper back
- Shoulder pain, upper back and neck pain
WHAT CAN BE DONE FOR TENSION HEADACHES CAUSED BY IT?
To relieve the pressure and tension on the sub-occipitals, we suggest using two tennis balls to massage the tight muscles found underneath the base of the skull. If these muscles are tight, they will put pressure on the nerves that wrap around the head.
To massage these muscles, take two tennis balls and duct tape them together like so:
Next, lie down on your back and place these directly underneath the skull and above the neck. Gently apply pressure with these balls to massage out these tight muscles. Soon, your headache will vanish!
WHAT ABOUT SHOULDER PAIN?
Shoulder pain is one of the most common diagnoses that we treat in our practice. In order to combat this, we teach all of our patients to perform the wall angel exercise. The wall angle exercise increases the mobility of your trapezius muscles, allows your neck to go into deep neck flexion and gives you greater core stability!
To perform wall angels:
- Flatten your back against a wall and bend your knees slightly and bring your feet shoulder width apart.
- Bring your arms up like an angel.
- Bring your neck into deep flexion by lifting your head and extending your neck out and then pivoting your head down to level while bringing the chin slightly back.
- Drag your arms down, squeezing the scapula and take a deep breath in through your core.
- Keep your ribs from flaring out by keeping your back pushed against the wall.
- Bring your arms up above the head and breathe the same way. You should feel it in your neck as your breathe.
- Make sure you are breathing through the belly and not breathing through the chest.
- Repeat this a few times each session.
Upper crossed syndrome effects a large amount of Americans in this day and age. Although this diagnosis most likely requires a complete system reset to stop the pain, these tips will put you on the right track.