28 January 2020
Bad posture or Upper Crossed Syndrome?
Most of us at some point catch our reflection as we pass by a window and straighten ourselves up after checking out the bad posture! Unfortunately bad posture habits are the ones that die hard. But with a bit of knowledge on why they occur, adaptations in our daily activities or routines can help improve our posture.
A good balanced posture is the key to a healthy spine. A balanced posture is one where the muscles that move the spine are constantly firing, contracting and relaxing to maintain stability. This way the muscles work in synergy with the larger muscles that move the arms and legs to make body movement efficient and less taxing on joints.
As children we have the potential to develop good postural habits such as sitting up straight and bending our knees to pick something up. As we grow we develop bad postural habits from observing the adults around us. Hours in front of the TV, sitting at a computer, long distance driving/ cycling or any job/activity that involves constantly leaning forward can put a tremendous amount of strain through our back, neck and shoulders. These prolonged static postures cause the body to adapt. As a result we start to develop muscle imbalances which then have an impact on the way are joints function leaving us more prone to injury.
Muscles need to be used regularly to make them strong. They also need to be stretched often to make them flexible. A healthy muscle is one that is well-toned but also relaxed! Unfortunately modern society puts demands on us meaning that more of us are travelling by car rather than walking and spending long hours sat at desks, neglecting the health of our muscles. If a muscle is not used very much it becomes weak and loses its elasticity which makes movement more difficult.
If a muscle becomes tight or overcontracted, then it will stay tight even if you are not moving. This can lead to poor range of movement, stiffness and wear and tear on a joint. If a muscle becomes weak or overstretched it is not able to support the joint properly. Sudden quick movements can lead to irritation of the joint and damage to its surrounding ligaments.
Upper Crossed Syndrome is a common uncomfortable and sometimes painful postural complaint. It can be seen in adults of all ages who adopt prolonged static postures. Secretarial or administrative staff, teachers, designers, bank clerks, taxi drivers, cyclists, hairdressers and games console fanatics are to name just a few examples of the kind of individual that can be affected.
This static postural overuse causes the anterior neck and chest muscles to become tight and shortened. The muscles that attach to the shoulder blades become weak and stretched and the anterior neck muscles are held in a permanently shortened state. This all results in a posture where the head is held forward over the chest, the shoulders are rounded and a hunch develops through the upper back. With the spine and muscles now held in this position, strain is put through the joints of the neck and upper back. Symptoms such as headaches and pain in the neck, upper back and shoulders can develop and become persistent. In some cases it can lead to a condition called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. This is where the nerves that supply the arms and hands become irritated from shortened tight muscles in the neck and chest causing symptoms such as pins and needles, pain or weakness in the arms, hands or fingers.
People with Upper Crossed Syndrome may also find that they suffer from breathing problems due to the rib cage not being able to fully expand for lung inflation. As well as the lungs being compromised, there is less cavity space for the stomach and intestines and this can lead onto IBS type symptoms such as constipation, diahorrea, abdominal pain and bloating or regular bouts of indigestion.
Our osteopaths will assess your posture and establish which muscles are tight or overcontracted and which muscles are weak and overstretched. They will assess your range of movement in your neck, shoulders and back and will discuss your daily working activites and social activities with you to establish what is maintaining this muscular imbalance.
Treatment is different for each individual. It may include a range of mobilization techniques that encourage freer movement in your back, neck and shoulders. Sometimes manipulation of the spine may be used to help remove any restrictions in the joints. Our osteopaths will work with the muscles using massage, interferential treatment, stretches and sometimes acupuncture to help bring back lost elasticity and strength. Ultrasound can also be used over the tendons in the shoulder.
Your treatment plan will also involve some home activities that you can perform between each visit to speed up the healing process. Neck and back stretches and self massage with a spiky ball can help maintain the muscle elasticity after treatment. Prescribing gentle resistance exercises can help to increase the tone and strength of your muscles. Everyone has different needs and so your osteopath will ascertain which exercises are suitable for you at the time of your visit. Advice will also be given on how to improve your posture in your work and home environment in order to take the strain off those tired muscles and joints.