Poor Posture and Upper and Lower Crossed Syndromes

Many people will experience chronic pain at some point in their lives. Often times this pain can creep up unexpectedly due to poor or non-optimal postural habits. In this day and age, poor posture has become common due to an increase in screen time and desk jobs. We spend a lot of time in the day sitting or hunching over smartphones and tablets or straining our necks trying to get a better grasp on the view of a computer.

Since we spend so much of our days in a slumped position with poor posture, this can have a significant effect on the functionality of muscles and the body overall. Today, we are going to look at what is referred to as “crossed syndromes.”
Upper crossed syndrome:
The upper cross involves mucles of the neck, chest and shoulder. With a head forward posture (head is pushed very far forward past the shoulders) or a hunched posture (upper back is rounded and shoulders collapse inwards), this can either facilitate or inhibit certain muscle groups. Generally, the deep neck flexors (muscles at the front of the neck that help the head perform a nodding motion) and the lower trapezius (between the shoulder blades) do not function optimally. They can get sluggish or weak. Meanwhile, the pectoral muscles in the chest and the upper trapezius take over. These tend to be tight areas that pull the shoulders forward into an uncomfortable position. Over time, upper crossed syndrome can cause tension headaches, and contribute to chronic neck, upper back and shoulder pain.
Lower crossed syndrome:
The lower cross involves the abdominal muscles, muscles in the lower back, and muscles around the hip joint. With lower crossed syndrome, the pelvis is anteriorly rotated. This means that the front of the pelvis is pulled towards the ground while the back of the pelvis pushes out (or causes the buttocks to stick out so to speak). Hip flexors, such as the rectus femoris and iliopsoas, as well as the muscles of the low back tend to get tight, while the abdominal muscles and gluteal (buttocks) muscles get lazy. This can contribute to pain the hips in and lower back.
These are only some symptoms of poor posture. The body is connected and one seemingly small link out of place can have an effect on the body as a whole. It is important to note that these syndromes can also cause pain to spread in other areas. For example, if your pelvis is out of its natural alignment as with lower crossed syndrome, this can lead to knee pain, or ankle pain, or foot pain as it radiates down the lower limb. It can also lead to problems above the hip, suck as lower back pain, and pain along the entire length of the spine all the way to the neck and head. Often times, pain may feel like it is in one specific area, but it can be caused by unexpected yet related issues further along the chain of muscles and joints in the body.
Poor posture can also wreak havoc on your nervous system. If a joint is out of alignment, nerves can risk becoming pinched or trapped in odd places. For example, the brachial plexus (which is a bunch group of nerves) runs through the armpit and around the shoulder area. If your shoulders are being pulled forward to a hunched posture, this can put excess pressure on the brachial plexus leading to tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers.
Practicing good posture on a daily basis is important. Next week we will look at some of the common stretches and exercises that can be used to help improve your posture. Until then, if you are interested in finding ways to better your posture in the pursuit of lessening the pain you may be feeling, please come see your physiotherapist or registered massage therapist. They can give you a much more specific treatment plan!
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