Upper Crossed Syndrome (UCS)

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by Long Van, D.C.

Upper Crossed Syndrome is an illness affecting millions of people around the world. It is seriously becoming a plague caused by modern lifestyle.

In today’s society we tend to see an increase in forward head posture—a result of our everyday activities. Our necks are constantly flexed forward from sitting in front of a computer monitor, driving, reading or from just being too lazy to look up.

Upper Crossed Syndrome forward head

Sitting at a desk with the head forward contracts the front of the neck muscles and causes reactive spasm in the upper back. When done often enough, it causes muscle imbalances that then degenerates into what is called the Upper Crossed Syndrome or UCS.

Upper Crossed Syndrome or UCS is where your neck flexors are being strengthened and the extensors are being stretched. This happens when muscles on one side of a joint are relaxing to accommodate contraction on the other side of that joint. What this means is that we are developing stronger flex muscles and weaker extensors muscles, creating an imbalance in our muscle pattern. These deformed muscles put “stress on the surrounding muscles, tendons, bones, and joints…”1

When you have Upper Crossed Syndrome, you might also have Lower Crossed Syndrome or LCS, which is muscle imbalance affecting the lower part of the body. We will discuss LCS in my next article.

Body Posture

A perfect posture has the center of gravity straight through the ear (see picture above, lady on the right.) A forward-flexed head has the body’s center of gravity way behind the ear (see picture above, lady on the left). This causes the upper part of the body to slump forward, the chest sink into the back, and the pelvis roll forward.

Body posture can make or break you. Literally.

Do you have UCS?

A forward head posture is just one symptom of UCS. You might have UCS if you notice the following about your body:

• Rounded shoulders
• A hunched upper back
• Headaches or migraines
• Shoulder pain, upper back and neck pain

Here are some of the common health issues you might face if you have Upper Cross Syndrome 2:

• Trigger Points and Fibromyalgia
• Pins and needles in the arms and hands
• Respiratory problems such as Asthma
• Emotional and psychological conditions such as depression
• Digestive disturbances
• Kidney  and menstrual dysfunctions
• Allergies and weak immune system

What Causes UCS?

One of the following activities, if conducted regularly enough, causes Upper Crossed Syndrome 3:

1. Sedentary Lifestyle – a lifestyle of prolonged sitting such as working (or playing or “facebooking”) at the computer for hours without standing up or stretching, watching TV for long periods of time, constant cellphone browsing, reading.
2. Poor Exercise Technique – There are certain exercises that round your upper back or scrunch your shoulders such as biking. You need to be fully aware of the correct position for body part when doing physical exercises.
3. Unbalanced Training – exercising or training only certain parts of your body while neglecting the rest. An unbalanced muscle pattern worsens posture.

How do you prevent, stop, or cure UCS?

The first thing to do is to correct your posture. There are plenty of websites that teach you to remember to hold your head and position yourself so that your body is always at the center of gravity. The American Chiropractic Association has basic rules for good posture in standing, sitting down, and lying down. Below is a graphic to help you.

Upper Crossed Syndrome Posture

As far as exercise is concerned, while stretching all the muscles is needed to stimulate proper circulation, certain exercises help particular muscles, as outlined below 4:

1. Pectoral muscles need to be stretched
2. Upper back muscles need to be stretched
3. Middle back muscles need to be strengthened
4. Rear shoulder muscles need to be strengthened

If you think you may be suffering from UCS, see us for a proper diagnosis, and we will help you get back into shape.

1 “Janda Syndromes: Janda’s Crossed Syndromes,” The Janda Approach to Chronic Pain Syndromes, last accessed Feb. 3, 2018
2 “Upper crossed syndrome: Causes, symptoms, and exercises,” Medical News Today, last accessed Feb. 3, 2018, last accessed Feb. 3, 2018
3 “Upper Crossed Syndrome,” The Personal Trainer’s Guide, last accessed Feb. 3, 2018
4 “Upper Cross and Lower Cross Syndromes,” Synergy Health and Wellbeing Centre, last accessed Feb. 3, 2018

Related articles:
Top Five Things to Do for a Healthy Lifestyle by Deric D’Agostino, D.C.
How Body Frame and Posture Affects Our Health and Well-Being by Deric D’Agostino, D.C.

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Dr. Long Van

Author: Dr. Long Van

Long Van, D.C. joined the team at Absolute Injury and Pain Physicians in 2008. He has experience in helping the human body function properly through the natural approach, and enjoys reading up on new information concerning medical conditions and associated treatments available.

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