What is Upper Crossed Syndrome (UCS)?

Chances are, if you’ve seen someone with poor posture, he or she has upper crossed syndrome. 

The Upper Crossed Syndrome (UCS) is a muscle imbalance condition caused by a tight upper trapezius and levator scapulae on the dorsal side crossing over with tight pectoralis muscles, which ultimately weakens the deep cervical flexors along the front of the neck and the lower trapezius and rhomboids in the back (Muscle Imbalance Syndromes, 2016).  In other words, there’s a weakening and lengthening of the posterior upper back and neck muscles and a tightening and shortening of the opposing anterior pectoral and neck muscles. UCS causes postural problems and poor exercise technique, and leads the body to create unwanted compensations that can lead to injuries, and is common in workers with a desk job and students.  Generally, people with UCS will have a forward head posture, and rounded or protracted shoulders.


What causes Upper Crossed Syndrome?

Upper crossed syndrome is usually common in desk workers or in people who are very sedentary.  Working at a desk for prolonged periods of time will cause one to shift their weight forward, placing a lot of weight on the pectoralis muscles in the chest and the cervical spine, while the muscles in the upper back are lengthened and weakened.  As a result, the shoulders begin to protract and the back will hunch, ultimately creating a “hunch back” posture which can cause problems and does not look very good.  Poor exercise technique or planning can also induce UCS; for example, when one trains their chest more as opposed to the upper back, there will be a muscular imbalance in their body.  Treating UCS will also help achieve peak athletic performance (Garnas, 2016).  Retracted shoulders will make it easier to resistance train optimally and maintain spine neutrality in lifts such as the bench press, squat, or the deadlift. 


 What I can do to prevent Upper Crossed Syndrome?

  1. Learn the correct posture and practice it!

The best way to start out is to learn to retract the shoulder blades, which needs to be pulled back and down.  A good cue is to stick the shoulder blades in the back of your pockets or to pinch them together.  Another important action is to tuck the chin in to create a neutral spine.  This may feel unnatural at first, but when practiced repeatedly, will help to correct your posture. 

  1. Try exercises that target the weak muscles

Once you know how to practice correct posture, it is important to strengthen the muscles in the upper back that have gotten weaker and are not being activated properly.  Exercises such as the straight row, rear deltoid pulls, and facepulls are all great exercises to strengthen the upper back muscles and engage in retraction of the shoulder blades. 

It is crucial to find out what is causing the UCS, whether it is work, sedentary lifestyle, training pattern, or poor posture in general to treat UCS effectively.  Our physiotherapists at Burquitlam Physiotherapy can help with clarifying the potential sources and putting you on the right steps to successfully treat UCS. 

If you have any questions, ask away at askburquitlampt@gmail.com

Sources cited:

Muscle Imbalance Syndromes. 2016. Upper Crossed syndrome. Retrieved from: http://www.muscleimbalancesyndromes.com/janda-syndromes/upper-crossed-syndrome/

Garnas, Eirik. 2016. Upper Crossed Syndrome: The Personal Trainer’s Guide. Retrieved from: https://www.theptdc.com/2014/07/upper-crossed-syndrome/