Upper Cross Syndrome: Symptoms and Treatment Options

You may notice it walking down the street in other people. You may notice it in yourself. Forward head posture is commonplace due to our daily routines, much of which, includes cell phone use, sitting in an office chair, or just lounging on the couch. It has another name in the health and wellness realm. That term is “Upper Cross Syndrome”.

Upper Cross Syndrome gets its name because of the muscle layout when assessing musculature. There are tight muscles and weak muscles with this syndrome. In a side view, the muscles are grouped together in the shape of an “X”. The lines connecting link the weak muscles to the weak muscles and the tight muscles to the tight muscles.

Weak Muscles:
Neck flexors (think chin tucks)
Rhomboids (these are between the shoulder blades)
Lower trap (between the neck and shoulder blades)

Tight Muscles:
Suboccipital muscles (base of the skull)
Upper Trap/Levator (between the shoulders and neck)

Why does the body do this? Oftentimes, our body is put through repetitive stress and actions in daily life. There is also the latter, or, lack of movement. The body is all about maintaining energy. The body realizes it’s holding this position frequently and therefore adapts by saving energy and keeping the muscles tight. This is when the large muscles take over movements and the small stabilizing muscles of the body lose their impact. Desk workers are most likely to get this syndrome due to prolonged computer work.

Signs you may have Upper Cross Syndrome

  1. Limited range of motion: Have you noticed that you can’t reach above your head to grab items off the highest cabinet ledge? Have you noticed that you can’t look behind you when driving out of the driveway? A limited range of motion can be due to upper cross syndrome. The overactive muscles may be causing the restriction in your range of motion and flexibility.
  2. Numbness or tingling in the fingers: There is a lot going on underneath our pec muscles on the front of our shoulder covering up major blood flow and nerve supply to our arms. There is the collarbone, part of the shoulder blade, and the classic shoulder joint, the glenohumeral joint space. Then we have layers of muscles on top. With Upper Cross Syndrome, blood flow and nerve supply can be intermittently cut off from brain communication. This leads to numbness or tingling in the one or all the fingers.
  3. Upper back rounding: With prolonged forward head posture, the joint spaces between your spine take a hit. This can cause degeneration on the front of your spine accentuating the curve in your upper back.
  4. Headaches: With muscles being overactive at the base of the skull and sides of the neck, headaches are not uncommon. You’ll be more likely to notice the headaches toward the end of a work day or after sitting for a prolonged period of time.

Treatment Options

The best treatment for Upper Cross Syndrome is a combination of chiropractic, exercise, and physical therapy. It’s best to start with light stretching of the tight muscles. Then light strengthening of the weak muscles. Lastly, chiropractic care will help balance the spine and nervous system on each side of the body to allow for lasting correction.

For strengthening exercises and chiropractic care, make an appointment here.
Below will be some stretching exercises.

Wall Slides

  1. Lean up against a wall. Leave a slight bend in your knees so your legs aren’t fully locked. Place your arms at 90 degrees with your shoulders, elbows, and wrists firmly on the wall.
  2. With your chest open and back tall, squeeze the muscles of your mid back as you slide your arms up towards each other. Keep your elbows at 90 degrees and try to touch your fingertips together at the top.
  3. Go within the range of motion you have today that is pain free.
  4. Hold this position for one count then slowly move your arms back down to your sides maintaining the 90 degree elbows.
  5. Repeat 10 times.

    See video on our facebook page here.

Chin Tucks

  1. Find a wall to lean up against or do this at red lights while driving.
  2. Sit up tall relaxing your shoulders.
  3. Push your head firmly on the surface you’re leaning up against for a count of 10 seconds while tucking your chin.
  4. After 10 seconds, relax for 10.
  5. Complete 3 sets at the end of a work day or during breaks.

    See video on our facebook page here.

Broomstick Range of Motion

  1. Hold the broomstick in your hands with knuckles facing forward at each end of the broom.
  2. With your arms extended straight and broom laying horizontally across the hips, gradually elevate the stick away from your body.
  3. Go within your natural range of motion as far as you can.
  4. Hold for 5 seconds at the end of your range of motion and repeat 10 times.
  5. (optional) If your range of motion allows, extend broom and arms all the way above and around your head, ending at the base of your back.

    See video on our facebook page here.

The good news is, Upper Cross Syndrome doesn’t have to be a forever diagnosis. If you start chiropractic, physical therapy, and proper exercise it can often be stopped in its tracks. If you want a more specific stretching and strengthening program, don’t’ hesitate to reach out.