Upper crossed syndrome (UCS) is a very common muscular imbalance involving the upper portion of the torso.
UCS develops primarily due to the demands and habits of modern lifestyles. Excessive time spent sitting hunched over keyboards, steering wheels, cell phones, tablets, books, etc. After time the muscles of the upper back and posterior portion of the neck become deconditioned and can even become elongated past their normal lengths. Furthering the issue, the muscles of the chest and anterior neck become excessively tight and shorten. The end result is a forward head tilt, excessive curvature of the upper back and rounded shoulders. The name UCS comes from the crisscrossing effect the opposing muscle groups contributing to this imbalance demonstrate.
Relax your upper body. Freeze. Moving just your head, look down at your hands. Are you looking at the backs of your hands or are your thumbs facing forward. If the backs of your hands face forward you mostly likely have this muscular imbalance.
The most obvious downside of UCS is the clear impact on posture and taking on a premature “aged” appearance. The more serious implications are the direct impacts UCS can have on your health. A forward head tilt lead to over 3x as much mechanical strain on the vertebrae of your neck and upper back. Our bodies were not meant to carry this much strain for so many years. This can lead to degeneration of the vertebrae and intervertebral discs as well as an increased risk of arthritis, osteoporosis and slipped discs. In the short term we see issues with decreased circulation and decreased respiratory function leading to increased fatigue and other complications.
Correcting UCS can be accomplished with increased flexibility and strength. Flexibility of the chest, shoulders and anterior neck are key. One of the best moves for flexibility is the doorway stretch (shown below). Try this at home, holding for at least 30 seconds and repeating twice. A neck stretch that can be done anywhere is also shown below. Strengthen the weak muscles of the upper back and neck with chin tucks and wall slides (also shown below). For the best results, repeat these exercises and stretches and at least 3 times a week.
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