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Upper Crossed Syndrome - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

Written by
Sneha Kannan
and medically reviewed by Shakti Mishra

Published on Oct 24, 2019   -  5 min read


Do you have neck pain, back pain, chest tightness, and headache when you sit for a long time in front of your computer or TV? It can be signs of upper crossed syndrome. For more information, read the article.

Upper Crossed Syndrome - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

What Is Upper Crossed Syndrome?

When poor posture deforms the muscles in the neck, shoulders, and chest, it is called upper crossed syndrome or UCS. It makes these muscles overlap, overactive, or underactive. Upper trapezius and levator scapula, which are thUpper Crossed Syndromee muscles of the neck and shoulders, become overactive and strained. The major and minor pectoralis muscles that are the muscles in the front of the chest become tight and short. Because of this deformation, the surrounding muscles become weak and underused. This condition results in the muscles in the front of the neck and lower shoulders to become weak.

UCS is commonly seen in people who have desktop jobs, read, or drive, as they usually slouch while performing these activities. It commonly causes neck and back pain and stiffness. Stretching and strengthening exercises can help relieve these symptoms. It is not a serious condition, but it can lead to chronic pain, so it is important to get it treated.

What Are the Causes of Upper Crossed Syndrome?

Any of these following factors can cause UCS:

Poor posture while reading, watching TV, driving, etc., can also cause this condition.

What Are the Muscles Affected in Upper Crossed Syndrome?

Because of improper posture, the following muscles become stretched or tight:

The pectoral muscles become short and tight. The deep cervical flexors, the muscles on the front and sides of the neck, become weak. The name upper crossed syndrome is derived from the “X” shaped that forms when the overactive and underactive muscles overlap.

What Are the Muscles Affected in Upper Crossed Syndrome?

What Are the Symptoms of Upper Crossed Syndrome?

UCS results in the following symptoms:

How Is Upper Crossed Syndrome Diagnosed?

Your doctor will diagnose this condition based on certain identifying characteristics. The common characteristics include:

If you have the above symptoms along with these characteristics, you most like have UCS.

What Are the Treatment Options for Upper Cross Syndrome?

The treatment options include:

Physical therapy - A physical therapist will first educate you and give advice related to your condition, so you understand the cause and work towards preventing more damage. The therapist will demonstrate exercises that you need to do regularly at home. They might also relieve pain and stiffness by manual therapy. Some of the exercises that you might have to do are:

Chiropractic care - Muscle weakness and poor posture can also misalign the joints in your spine. A chiropractor can realign these joints with spinal manipulation or adjustment. Always get this done by a licensed practitioner. Chiropractic care can also increase the range of motion, as it stretches and relaxes the shortened muscles.

What Are the Ways to Prevent Upper Cross Syndrome?

Some ways to prevent upper cross syndrome are:

Stretching Exercises:

You can prevent this condition by maintaining proper posture. If you feel your posture is wrong or if you are experiencing symptoms of UCS, consult a doctor online.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Causes Upper Crossed Syndrome?

Upper crossed syndrome is usually caused by improper or poor posture over an extended period. This results in the formation of rounded shoulders, the head seems to be in front of the body, and there will be an apparent curve in the neck and upper back. Older adults often suffer from this upper crossed syndrome; it is also commonly seen in office workers and athletes.


How Do You Fix Upper Crossed Syndrome?

There is a four-step corrective exercise process for the upper crossed syndrome. This exercise starts by inhibiting or relaxing the possible overactive muscles, then lengthening the same muscles, followed by strengthening of complementing underactive muscles and then the last step, integrating the involved muscles to reestablish functional synergistic movement patterns.


What Does Upper Cross Syndrome Feel Like?

The upper cross syndrome presents symptoms at the base of the neck and shoulders, and sometimes it can also be felt in the upper back region. Pain from the upper crossed syndrome feels tight especially when bringing the head towards the chest.


How Do You Sleep With Upper Cross Syndrome?

The recommended way of sleeping with the upper crossed syndrome is to lie similar to yoga’s corpse pose, with a pillow supporting back. To avoid neck and upper back pain, the pillow should be used in a neutral position while sleeping on the side or back. Excessively thick or multiple pillows should be avoided.


Can Upper Crossed Syndrome Be Corrected?

Upper crossed syndrome is usually due to improper or poor posture or incorrect repetitive movements. This can be corrected with proper and consistent corrective exercises. Focussing on the relief of tight muscles of the head relieves some pain. You should ask your doctor to advise on the treatment options.


Which Muscles Are Tight in the Upper Crossed Syndrome?

The muscles that are tight in upper crossed syndrome are typically the upper trapezius and levator scapula, which are back muscles of the shoulders and neck. Initially, they become extremely strained and then overactive. Later, the muscles in front of the chest, major and minor pectoralis, become tight and shortened.


Is Upper Cross Syndrome Real?

Upper crossed syndrome is real; it is caused due to improper or poor posture. It affects the muscles of the back and chest. There will be weakening in one group of muscles and tightness in another group of muscles.


Can Upper Crossed Syndrome Affect Breathing?

Due to improper postures, the efficiency of breathing will also become compromised. The progressive postural collapse into thoracic flexion makes it more challenging to open the thoracic cavity and fill in the lungs.


Why Is My Upper Back Always Tight?

Upper back tightness may be of various causes like sports injuries, overstraining and even accidents. Even the day to day activities such as sitting for long periods, incorrect sleeping positions can cause tightness. Shoulders may feel tight and stiff due to stress, tension, or overuse.


Which Exercise Is Most Beneficial for Correcting Lower Crossed Syndrome?

The lower crossed syndrome occurs due to muscle strength imbalances in smaller segments. Physiotherapists recommend foam rolling exercises for the iliopsoas muscles, floor exercises to stretch the lumbar spine, pelvis, and hip joint.


How Long Does It Take to Correct Posture?

There is no definite period on how long it will take to correct posture. It depends on the type and severity of the condition, and the effort one takes. Generally, 30 days can make a real difference in improving one’s posture because research shows it takes about three to eight weeks to establish a routine.


What Muscles Are Weak in Upper Cross Syndrome?

The muscles which become weak are the back muscles of shoulders and neck- upper trapezius and levator scapula. Then the muscles in front of the neck major and minor pectoralis become vulnerable too.


What Are the Upper Crossed Syndrome Exercises?

The exercises for upper crossed syndrome involves lying down exercises and sitting down exercises. Lying down exercise involves placing a thick pillow below the spine and keeping the head in a neutral position. Exercises that involve sitting with your back straight and feet flat on the floor is good for the upper crossed-syndrome condition.


Can Upper Cross Syndrome Cause Chest Pain?

The upper cross syndrome can cause chest pain. This happens due to straining in the back of the neck and often a weakness in front. There will be chest pain and tightness—the presence of pain in the upper back, usually shoulders and neck.


How Long Does Upper Cross Syndrome Last?

Upper cross syndrome lasts as long as the muscles are in a strained or improper position. Correcting postures will relieve one of the upper crossed syndromes. Therefore, the physical therapies should be properly carried out to get the best result.

Last reviewed at:
24 Oct 2019  -  5 min read




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