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The term Upper Cross Syndrome (AKA: Upper Crossed Syndrome, or UCS), is everywhere! If you Googled your symptoms, then you’ve probably seen it. 

First, UCS is not an actual disease. It is not even a diagnosis. It is an umbrella term that describes a common pattern of bad posture. The body & the brain speak the same language: repetition. What this means is that the more you do something, the better you get at doing it!

“Practice makes perfect!” 

Posture is how you hold yourself, especially when you are not thinking about it. Poor posture over time becomes your habit. UCS is a postural pattern that includes rounded shoulders, with your head in front of your body, and a curve in the neck and upper back that goes the same way. 

What are the symptoms of Upper Cross Syndrome?

UCS is one of the rare conditions that is easily seen with the naked eye! People will notice their shoulders become more rounded and that they are more “hunched over” over. People will notice that their neck and head crane forward. People will start to notice that they feel like they have “a hump” in their upper back.

UCS puts extra stress on certain muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, and joints, which causes any or all of the following:

  • Headaches

  • Neck pain

  • Chest pain and tightness

  • Pain in the upper back, and shoulders

  • Difficulty sitting for long periods of time:
    working, scrolling social media, binge-watching TV, driving, etc.

  • Decreased ability to move in the neck or shoulders

  • Numbness, tingling, and pain in the shoulders or arms


What exactly is Upper Cross Syndrome?

The muscles of the human body are interconnected, and interdependent. If you are lifting something heavy, your arms are counting on each other, but also your legs, butt, back, core, chest, and even your neck. 

When one muscle becomes weak, another muscle still has to do its job, but it also takes over for the weak muscle. In UCS, mid-back muscles and the muscles on the front of your neck become very weak. So, the chest and the back of the neck have to tighten and work harder. This causes pain throughout the upper body, including tension headaches, pain in the shoulders, and pain in the neck,  This also decreases the ability of your neck and shoulders to move like they should.

All UCS is, is a pattern of poor posture that causes muscle imbalance by “turning off” and weakening the mid-back and the front of the neck and the overworking of the chest, upper back and neck. This imbalance leads to what we call a mechanical disadvantage, and joint dysfunction. All of this pulls the spine forward putting more and more stress on your body as time goes on.


What causes Upper Cross Syndrome?

Short Answer? Poor Posture. There are a lot of factors, but here are a few facts:

  • People who live “a sedentary lifestyle” are at the most risk for UCS. 

  • Long hours of playing on a smartphone; sitting at a computer; watching television strengthen the habit of bad posture, and cause UCS, and once you have it can cause it to get worse. 

While poor posture and too much sitting are the leading causes of UCS, it is fairly common to see UCS in athletes, especially boxers, mixed martial artists, swimmers and weightlifters. Overuse of the neck, shoulder, chest, and upper back muscles can also create the mechanical disadvantage, and poor posture that

causes UCS.

UCS is more pronounced the older you get, but you can see it in children who learn how to stand, walk, and sit by watching and imitating the adults around them. UCS is extremely common in office workers but also in athletes. It’s one of the most common postural problems in both the young and the old, along with Lower Cross Syndrome.


Is Upper Cross Syndrome serious?

UCS is a chronic condition that can leave significant muscle imbalances in the body and lead to chronic back pain. Most cardio exercises, like swimming, biking, running are harder to do, and do well, because you cannot move the way you should be able to move.

UCS will decrease your athletic performance, and will cause eventual damage to the spine, itself, from the continual uneven pressure on it, and you will have Arthritis in your neck.

What is the treatment for Upper Cross Syndrome?

For most muscle and joint pain, and for UCS, prevention is much easier than cure! A more active lifestyle is helpful, as are preventative exercises and stretching. Once you have it, Upper Cross Syndrome itself is treated by strengthening of the weak muscles and loosening the tight ones. 

Any poor posture, including Upper Cross Syndrome, creates other problems in the mid back, upper back, shoulders, and neck. Those other problems need to be treated differently, depending on how they are causing pain in your body! It is very important to be treated by a musculoskeletal (muscle and joint) specialist, so that you can have an accurate diagnosis and a specific treatment plan to get your muscles and joints functioning evenly and normally, without pain.

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