Do you feel tightness in your neck? How are your shoulders? Do you have headaches on a regular basis? The upper cross syndrome could be the cause of it, especially if you work in front of a computer, on a desk, or sit for a long period of time.
The upper cross syndrome refers to a forward head posture. It is very common these days and is the cause of a lot of problems. Luckily, there are ways to battle it. But first. Let’s see what it is in more detail.
Let's take a neutral position or a good posture as a reference. We picture a nice and tall standing human, with aligned shoulders and head. That means, head, shoulders, pelvis, knees, and the middle of your foot are perfectly stacked. In other words, if we are to draw a perpendicular line from the middle of the foot it should cross the body through those points and finish at the head.
Now, when we sit in front of a computer we tend to round forward. That includes our head going forward, shoulders elevating, and internally rotating. As we already know from the previous blog, if a muscle remains to shorten for a long period of time, it becomes tight. In this case, chest, upper trapezius, and levator scapulae become tight, as they do exactly this. Lift and internally rotate the shoulders. That limits their range of motion and prevents us from standing in a good posture.
Another tightness occurs, which can be a reason for chronic headaches. Suboccipital are pair of 4 muscles located in the base of the head, involved in the head extension
Those muscles become tight due to our incredible ability to adapt. We are designed to be looking forward, not downwards. However, that happens when the shoulders go forward, followed by the head. Since the brain feels unprotected and unprepared, by not looking forward it tries to find a solution. This position forces our brain to tilt the head backward, in order to keep the look to the horizon. Unfortunately, that survival instinct comes with some consequences. The muscles responsible for that tilt (suboccipital) become tighter and tighter and can cause cramps and headaches.
Good posture also refers to a balanced posture. In other words, all the muscles should work in unison to provide sufficient movement of the joints. Just like those old-school scales at the markets. In order to be balanced, both sides should be equal in weight. The difference with our body is that for that balance it uses pairs of muscles that are constantly working to provide the body with a balanced healthy posture. The problem comes when we do not provide enough demand for those muscles to work. Staying in the same posture over and overtricks the body that some muscles are not needed and therefore our brain decides to turn them off.
In that case, those muscles are the deep neck flexors and the lower and mid trapezius.
Those muscles are antagonists or work as the opposition to the ones that are tight. The deep neck flexors, flex and tilt the head downwards and take some of the pressure from the sub occipitals. The lower and mid trapezius are responsible for pulling the shoulders downs and keeping them stacked to the body, counteracting to the levator scapulae, upper trapezius, and chest.
Weakness in those muscles means weak and imbalanced posture. As we know weak or imbalanced structure, sooner or later is going to end in demolition. In our body, demolition refers to pain, inability to move, perform daily activities, and overall suffering.
We are not designed to be staying in that sitting position. Our spine is designed to be vertically stacked. This is its preferred position. This is how we have evolved. Hunting, carrying, building, fighting. We have evolved doing those activities for so long, that they became a demand for keeping our body in a healthy state. Of course, nowadays we don’t need to hunt or fight, but we can replicate those activities with some specific exercises, which are going to help us prevent the destruction of our body, by keeping the demand for those muscles.
My advice is to never stop moving. Whatever it is. A favorite sport. Shared type of activity, such as dancing or hiking or just walking. Find a reason to move, create a reason for your brain to keep your muscles balanced. And eliminate the chance of demolition.
Now here I am going to list 3 exercises, which I think are some of the best for fighting upper cross syndrome. They are easy to do. Can be done at any time, everywhere.
1. Chest stretch.
Find a suitable door frame. Place your hands on the sides and lean forward for few seconds.
Make sure you lift your chest up. Actively try to bring the shoulder blades together. You should feel a nice stretch in the chest and front side of your shoulders. Do not push through pain. The goal is to set new limits on the length of that muscle.
Stay in that stretched position and try to separate your hands from the door frame. It might be impossible in the beginning. Keep trying. Imagine you are trying to bring your shoulder blades together. Hold for 3-5 seconds. This is going to activate those sleeping and week mid trapezius and force the chest to lengthen even more.
Repeat for 3 or 4 sets multiple times per day.
2. Levetor scapulae stretch
You can do it sitting or standing. Place one of your hands on your neck. The lower you place your hand, the better the stretch. That is going to improve over time. Try to lift the chest up, as that is going to provide you with more range of motion at the shoulder joint.
Look to the opposite shoulder, imagining you are trying to place the forehead on top. You can assist with the other hand, by pulling down a bit. Do not pull too much. The stretch should be mild discomfort. Not pain. Remember! The more pain you feel when you stretch, the harder is going to be for your brain to release the tension.
Hold for 15 – 20 seconds move to the other side. You may notice that one side is tighter than the other. That is fine. Just spend a bit more time stretching it.
Repeat 2 or 3 times on each side multiple times per day.
3. Iron man fly.
I am sure you all know Iron man. The way he is able to fly is pretty incredible. He uses thrusters at his boots and palms. That allows him to have enough power to take off, navigate and maneuver.
Imagine that you are Iron man, and you are about to do your first test flight. Stand tall with your arms on the sides. Palms facing downwards, ready to release the power that is going to drive you up to the sky. Now if you are not able to resist those thrusters by pushing your hands and shoulders down, you will eventually end up, losing control and probably hurting yourself.
Lift the chest up to increase the space for your scapula to freely move. Extend your arms with palms facing downwards. Slightly rotate them backward. Push your hands down. feel the motion coming from the shoulders and scapulae. Now you are ready to take off. Hold that position for few seconds. This is going to strengthen the mid and lower trapezius and release the tension from your chest and mostly levator scapulae and upper trapezius. Release and repeat. Do 15 to 20 repetitions multiple times per day.