Many of my clients seek treatment for neck and shoulder soreness, tightness, or pain. When discussing treatment plans with my business partner, a licensed acupuncturist who co-treats a number of these individuals, we have referred to this particular protocol as The Uzh (as in The Usual), because this complaint is quite common.
Upper Cross Syndrome (UCS) is a common condition explained by Dr. Janda and easily recognized by a hunched over posture, rounded shoulders, and head protruding forward. UCS, also referred to as Shoulder Girdle Crossed Syndrome, is basically a muscular imbalance: the tightness of the upper trapezius and levator scapula on the back of the body “cross” with the tightness of pectoralis major and pectoralis minor on the chest, and the weakness of the deep cervical flexors in the front of the neck “cross” with the weakness of the middle and lower trapezius of the back. This pattern therefore creates muscle soreness and joint dysfunction in the neck (atlanto-occipital joint and at C4-C5), shoulders (cervicothoracic and glenohumeral joints), and upper back (T4-T5), and often leads to tension headaches.
UCS develops as a result of repetitive motion and improper posture. Even exercise can put people at risk. Those who work out the chest and upper trapezius muscles more than the lower trapezius and rhomboids will eventually develop UCS. In my experience, however, the one thing that my clients complaining of muscle soreness in the neck and shoulders (and upper back) have in common is that, standing or sitting, they all work at a computer; a sign of the times.
Though massage can temporarily alleviate the soreness associated with UCS, strengthening weak muscles and stretching tight muscles will help prevent it from worsening, and hopefully even reverse the damage. If left untreated, UCS may eventually lead to conditions such as osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease, so, if you think your uppers are crossed, it's probably time for an evaluation!
California Licensed Acupuncturist and Certified Massage Therapist; mother of two; dancer, yogi, hiker.