Upper Crossed Syndrome

Yep the name looks scary, to me it resonate as something terribly painful. I never experienced in my life a big injury, a surgery, nothing traumatizing.

So during the past couple of months when I started to feel chronic pains in my back to my neck I worried a lot.

I thought it was only stress and I tried to reduce it as much as I could but without any effects. 

I went to a bad chiropractor that just wanted to crack me 3 times a week (cracking and touching my spine so many times would just created instability). I also kept going to the gym, believing that my back exercises would help me ease the pain.

As you can guess so far, all of this was wrong. I went on like this for months. The pain became my daily companion, there was no position giving some sort of relief and even lying on my bed  would cause me pain and difficulty to move.

I even woke up a morning with difficulties to breathe and the sensation of a sharpening blade punching me in my ribs. 

Fortunately, destiny/karma/god (whatever the origin, the result is the same) brought to my path a amazing health professional who accepted to take care of me. Within just a couple of minutes she diagnosed my problem: Upper Crossed Syndrome.

What the hell is that ? It’s a syndrome caused by a pathological bad posture. The muscles in the neck, the shoulders, and the chest become deformed because of the poor posture. The muscles typically the most affected are the upper trapezius and the levator scapula (the back muscles of the shoulders and neck). First, they become extremely strained and overactive. Then, the muscles in the front of the chest become tight and shortened.

When these muscles are overactive, the surrounding counter muscles are underused and become weak. The overactive muscles and underactive muscles can then overlap, causing an X shape to develop. This is what is looks like: the typical posture of our young generation always bending to its smartphone (or a 90 years old person).  

And yes, this is when I realized that my work environment of the last months had caused me this pain. Bad chair and desk, no bluetooth mouse, small and low laptop screen… and all of these hours spent bend on my phone and my home laptop.

Hours and hours in a bad position. For months. I was actually surprised to see that my body had been capable of holding it for so long.

Five situations in which you can develop upper crossed syndrome

  1. Reading
  2. Watching TV
  3. Using a smartphone/laptop/computer
  4. Driving
  5. Biking 

To me it was a very alarming wake up call because these are situations that I (and we) live on a daily basis, from the moment we get up until we go to sleep.

And as many things, when you don’t know that you are hurting yourself, you don’t know how to prevent and cure it.

My main problem was the pain on my neck and all my back. My movements on my shoulders became really limited and more painful. Of course I became extremely tired from being in pain all the f****** time. One of my ribs also moved out of its place (that was the sharpening pain).

Of course because of this bad posture and its consequences on my body, I became completely useless when I was exercising. I could feel it and see it (I hit a plateau). 

Which bring me to the most important : how to prevent and cure this syndrome ? 

Three ways to get rid of upper crossed syndrome

  1. Physical Therapy if necessary (with a chiropractor or a physical therapist which will make you do specific movements for a certain amounts of weeks depending on your case).
  2. Exercises: learn again how to lie down on the floor, sit and stand with a correct posture. 
  3. Practice prevention every day 

Tips to prevent cross upper body syndrome

  • Limit the time you spent watching TV, reading, using laptops and computers, or driving.
  • When you do these activities, take breaks every 15-20 minutes to move and stretch. 
  • Try to get a cardiovascular exercise every day, if you can squeeze 30 minutes of a low-impact activity that you like. Personally, I enjoy walking on the beach and swim twice a week.
  • Pay attention to your movements because they can potentially make worse your symptoms or the pathology. If you want, set a reminder on your phone every 15 minutes to move.
  • Practice the stretches that target the sore muscles of the back neck, shoulders, and chest.
  • Do strengthening exercises to target these weakened muscles in the upper front neck and lower shoulders.
  • Whilst you are working on a laptop, watching TV or reading make sure that you are doing it at eye level.
  • Pick a chair without a back to help you maintain a proper posture, a standing desk if you can.
  • Use a headset for long telephone calls or transcribing.
  • Use a single pillow that keeps its shape.

The first 4 months after the diagnosis I left the gym to just focus on correcting my posture. If you can’t keep a good posture, your workouts are going to be useless, you are going to lose motivation and chances are high you will give up. And the pain is unbearable.

In a matter of only two weeks my pain was almost completely gone, I increased the intensity of my foundation training, yoga sessions and came back to the gym once a week.

From now on, I feel pain when I am getting back on a bad posture at work so I know when I have to correct it. I work exclusively on a standing desk and I look crazy because I stretch in front on my coworkers. I also practiced more breathing exercises and meditation time to calm my mind and lower my daily stress.

If you are living a similar situation check with you chiropractor your physical condition. 

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