Upper cross syndrome is an umbrella term used when there is a combination of tight and weak muscles on the front and back side of our shoulder. It is often a result of poor head posture and muscle imbalance. Typically, the muscles that are tight are our chest muscles and muscles in the back of our neck (pectoralis major, upper trapezius, and levator scapulae); muscles that are weak are located on our anterior neck and mid-back (deep neck flexors and the rhomboid muscles).
A classic presentation of someone with upper cross syndrome is forward head posture, as well as an elevated and protracted shoulder. If the kind of muscle imbalance or upper cross syndrome is not treated properly, it could lead to chronic shoulder and neck pain, soft tissue inflammation, headache, thoracic kyphosis, or even herniated disc.
Causes #1: Poor Posture
From continuously studying or working in front of the computer, or using cell phone with a poor posture, forward head posture is almost inevitable in current society. For anyone who is already experiencing a slight forward head posture, it is important for us to actively fix our posture and try to make it a habit. A correct head posture should be ears directly above the shoulder joint, and chest up with shoulders slightly rolled back and relaxed.
Causes #2: Training Errors
One of the possible causes leading to muscle imbalance is training error. During body building and working out, individuals often put more focus on training the “major muscles” that we think will make us look more appealing (i.e. the chest and shoulder). Doing a bunch of bench press and shoulder press to make our chest and shoulder bigger, while dedicating less time on training our back muscles.
To counteract the muscle imbalance, we will show you two strengthening exercises.
1) Chin Tuck
This is an exercise strengthening our deep neck muscles. Stand up tall and put both of your hands behind your head. Slowly move your head back as if you are making a double chin. It is very important to understand that the motion is not ‘nodding’, but rather a backward movement. Hold the chin tuck position for 1-2 seconds, then return to normal position, repeat this for 10-12 times and perform 3 sets in total.
2) Face Pull
You can perform this exercise with or without a resistance band. First, wrap the exercise band around an immovable object at around eye level. Then, holding the two ends of the exercise band with each hand, pull the two ends of the exercise band towards your face. Be aware to actively recruit muscles of your back. Hold the position for 1-2 seconds, then slowly return to the starting position. Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions in total. This exercise is a great way to strengthen your back muscles.