Did you know that 86% of Americans are seated all day for a desk job? For many of us, the daily grind entails 5+ hours crouched over a desk and staring at a computer screen, with little breaks. Sound like you? This has become the norm for the modern day workforce. How many of these individuals are sitting with proper posture and workstation set up? Not many. Are you affected by neck, shoulder, or lower back pain? It may be the sitting that is the culprit.
What is upper and lower crossed syndrome? The science behind what happens when we sit all day…
Upper Cross Syndrome is a muscle imbalance of the upper body caused by the following during poor sitting posture:
- Tight pectoral muscles: When sitting slouched our pectoral muscles in the front of the chest are shortened and pull our shoulders forwards. This position also puts us at further risk for shoulder impingement or rotator cuff issues.
- Tight upper trap and suboccipitals: It is a natural tendency to hold our shoulders towards our ears , especially under stress or if having to hold the phone to ear for calls at work. This posture causes the upper trapezius muscle to work overtime. Our suboccipital muscles become tight with continuous forward head posture seen in poor workstation ergonomics.
- Weak Rhomboid and Lower Trap: These muscles are responsible for bringing shoulder blades down and back. They are over lengthened with poor posture during sitting and as a result become under active and weak.
- Weak Deep Cervical Flexors: These muscles are responsible for retracting the chin and are necessary to reverse forward head posture. They also become underused and weak.
Lower Cross Syndrome is a muscle imbalance of the lower body caused by the following during long periods of sitting:
- Tight Hip flexors: In the seated position, the hip flexor complex stays in the shortened position. This leads to chronic tightness and many times an anterior pulling of the pelvis.
- Tight Erector Spinae , Thoracolumbar Fascia and Quadratus Lumborum: Tightness here is many times found with trigger points
- Weak Abdominals: Our abdominals are the most important aspect of stabilizing our spine. In lower crossed syndrome, many times they are inhibited. Weak abdominals can lead to an array of lumbar spine issues.
- Weak Glut muscles: The glut muscles are an important stabilizing muscle especially during walking.
What can happen as a result of upper and lower cross syndrome?
If left untreated for extended periods of time, upper and lower cross syndrome can lead to any of the following:
- Cervical spine radiculopathy (causing pain and/or numbness and tingling down one arm as a result of nerve impingement)
- Shoulder impingement
- Chronic headaches
- Feeling of “stiffness” with attempting cervical spine range of motion such as turning head to drive
- Fatigue of the neck during long periods of sitting due to lack of endurance in muscles required to stabilize the spine.
- Chronic low back pain
- Piriformis syndrome (leading to sciatic pain)
- Could be at higher risk for disc issues due to weak abdominal musculature needed to stabilize the spine with activity
What can we do to help with Upper and Lower Cross Syndrome?
- Set your phone alarm for every hour to remind yourself to either stand up and stretch for a few minutes and /or take a short walk break around the office
- Be aware of your posture during work hours (driving too!)
- Exercise and stretch on a regular basis to combat and help reverse some of the muscle imbalances
- Correct your work station set up…
Work Station Set Up Tips:
- Sit all the way back in chair and add a lumbar roll (may use small rolled up towel in place of lumbar roll)
- Feet flat on floor (if too short, use a small foot rest or stack of books under your feet to bring them up to your thighs and lower legs are at 90 degree angle) There should also be a small space between edge of chair and back of knee
- Monitor should be directly in front of you so that you are not having to lift head up or down. If there are 2 monitors, place them directly next to each other without space in between. You should be able to touch the screen in front of you while sitting all the way back in chair
- Keep mouse close by and keyboard directly in front of you
- Forearms should be parallel with floor
Here are some exercises to help with promoting better posture and relieve symptoms associated with Upper and Lower Cross Syndrome…
Doorway Stretch: Step into doorway with one foot in front of other. Elbows below shoulders, use hips to push forward into doorway.
Scapular Squeezes: Looking straight ahead and elbows bent, squeeze shoulder blades together as if squishing a penny. Do not hunch shoulders up to your ears. Hold for 5 seconds, then repeat 10 x
Foam Rolling for Thoracic Spine Extension: Place a foam roller under the base of shoulder blades, support your neck with hands behind the neck, keep elbows wide. Extend your back as much as you can with no pain, and keep the buttocks on the floor. Slowly, lower the FR higher on the middle back- back shoulders, and gently roll down and up as you release any tension in the upper and middle back area.
Half Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch with Reach : Get into a half kneeling position. Reach your arms straight overhead and lean back until a stretch is felt in front of the hip in back. Keep pelvis tucked. Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat 3 x.
If you have questions about any of these exercises or would like additional information on this subject, feel free to contact our therapists at Potentia Therapeutics!