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What’s Causing Your Neck and Shoulder Pain? A Look at Poor Posture and the “Upper Cross Syndrome”


Prolonged Sitting and Pain


If you’re sitting at work all day and frequently experience neck and shoulder pain, you could be suffering from what can be described as ‘upper cross syndrome.’ This may be as a result of your poor posture and prolonged sitting.

Osteopaths, Physiotherapists and other health or fitness professionals are always trying to improve people’s posture, and rightly so. Posture has become a persistent issue within healthcare industry, but why exactly is posture so important?



What is ‘Good Posture?’


First, let’s take a basic look at what posture means. Posture is a term to describe the position of the body or the alignment of the body parts within relation to each other.

Ideal posture is one where your body can perform activity in the most efficient way possible using the least amount of energy possible and of course ideal posture is different for every individual.



What is ‘Bad Posture?’


All of human movement and function requires a balance of muscle length and strength between opposing muscles that surround a joint. Poor postures can lead to imbalances within these muscles, leading to tension due to muscles weakness, inactivity or tightness that can lead to abnormal stress placed on a joint.

Now muscle imbalances may not be directly causing your pain but many musculoskeletal pain syndromes are as a result of chronic muscle imbalances. One of the most commonly diagnosed musculoskeletal pain syndromes is the upper cross syndrome.


What is ‘Upper Cross Syndrome?’


Upper cross syndrome is characterized by a forward head posture, rounded upper back (increased thoracic kyphosis), excessive upper neck concavity (mid-upper cervical spine extension), and forward sloping shoulders (scapular protraction).

This can lead to muscle imbalances between the front and back (anterior and posterior aspects) of your upper body, such as:

Tight Muscles:
• Pectoralis major and minor
• Upper Trapezius
• Levator Scapula 
• Sternocleidomastoid
• Suboccipitals
• Subscapularis
• Latissimus Dorsi


Weak Muscles:
• Longus Capitis
• Longus Colli
• Serratus Anterior
• Rhomboids
• Lower Trapezius
• Posterior Rotator Cuff


These tight and weak muscles can impact joint movement in a number of ways, the most common being creating a bias within a joint to move in a certain way, due to the tightness in a muscle. Tight muscles can also encourage poor postural habits or positions, as they will adapt to a consistently shortened position. Conversely, elongated muscles become weak when they are lengthened beyond their optimal length.

Overtime these muscle imbalances can lead to abnormal movement patterns, movement dysfunctions and stress joints, ligaments and tendons. This can predispose your body to a wide range of other potential issues.

Some of the more common orthopedic issues that can arise due to poor posture include and upper cross syndrome include; neck and shoulder pain, limited shoulder range of motion and shoulder impingement, thoracic outlet syndrome and cervical (neck) disc pathologies.




How Can You Improve this Posture?


So how can you rectify these potential problems? A workstation assessment conducted by an Osteopath or Physiotherapist is a good place to start. Then, ultimately it comes down to strengthening elongated muscles and stretching shortened muscles.

An Osteopath or Physiotherapist will be able to identify the specifics and work out a management place. Once you have the adequate strength and muscle length, it’s up to you to remember to maintain this ideal posture throughout the day – please see my colleagues previous article on how to do this entitled ‘Persistence and Determination. A Physios Guide to Posture and Movement.’


Free Online Exercise Videos


We have a library of almost 100 exercise videos that are useful for anyone interested in improving standing posturesitting posture, reducing pain and treating injury including back pain and neck pain, correct alignment, exercise technique, stretching and a whole lot more so please use our handy search tool or go to the videos section of the website. 


I look forward to hearing your comments or queries so please do get in touch at info@octopusclinic.com or to book simply call 02075838288.



Andrew Hudson

Registered Osteopath BSc M.Ost DO

osteopath andrew hudson

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