Walking Tall: Correcting Upper Cross Syndrome

The majority of people in the United States have jobs that place a lot of strain in their neck and shoulders, causing compensations in movement such as a forward head and rounded shoulder posture. This is known as Upper Cross Syndrome or Upper Extremity Impairment Syndrome (UEIS). The cause of this is usually having an improper length and tension relationship in your chest, neck, shoulders, and back muscles. The chest and shoulder muscle groups will be overactive (tight) while the muscles of the neck and back will be in an inhibited or lengthened state. The effect is that the tight muscle groups pull the shoulders into a rounded position and protrude the head forward.

To make matters worse; individuals will go to the gym and train their anterior muscles groups, and ignore the muscles in the posterior chain, furthering their postural dysfunction. In order to correct the issue over time, a corrective exercise program utilizing self myofascial release, lengthening techniques, and integrated strength and activation exercises are recommended.

For clients that exhibit these postural distortion patterns, we train the pull to push movement pattern at a 2:1 ratio, effectually training the posterior chain (back muscles) at twice the volume as the chest muscles, until the proper length and tension relationship is re-established in the kinetic chain.

Below are some exercises that can help improve posture and correct upper extremity impairment syndrome. For best results, include these exercises in your workout program 2-3 times a week.

The first exercise (top left) is a floor prone cobra exercise with a forward reach. This exercise trains passive cervical extension while activating the inhibited muscle groups affected by UEIS.

The second exercise (top right) is a progression to the first exercise. It is performed on a stability ball causing more activation in the muscle groups.

The bottom exercise is a TRX Low Row. A cable row may also be performed if a TRX is not available. This exercise trains the lower trapezius, and rhomboid (mid back muscle groups) that are affected by UEIS.

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