Self-Care for the Achy Breaky MT

Upper Cross Syndrome

We have all heard lots of advice about having good posture at our desks, how to properly adjust our chairs, how to sit up straight, etc.  I have found there is not enough information about what to do when we try our best with these preventative measures and perhaps do not meet them all the way. What do we do to feel better when we end up sore and achy? You may have never heard of it, but upper cross syndrome is real.

Before becoming a medical transcriptionist, I was a registered massage therapist for many years. I could not count the number of clients with chronic pain issues because they worked at a desk.

Who out there tends to slouch? Slouching causes tight muscles in the anterior neck and pectoral muscles, which can then cause impingement on the brachial plexus and cause numbness or shooting pains down the arms as well as a propensity towards injury in the arms and wrists. It also causes an imbalance.  The muscles in the upper back and neck become weakened, and this causes those muscles to work harder to maintain posture, and, in turn, they get sore too. This is called the Upper Cross Syndrome.

What can we do about this? Beyond the obvious answer of working on our posture and ensuring that our workstations are as ergonomically friendly as possible, there are a number of things we can do to help.

First of all, work on stretching your pectoral muscles. Sometimes we get so tight that we are stuck in a position with our shoulders hunched forward. We need to lengthen the pectoral muscles. You can try standing in a doorway with one arm bent at 90 degrees. Put your forearm against the door frame and gently step forward to stretch the pec, just like Jacky below. Hold for at least 30 seconds to allow the muscles to stretch and then switch arms. If you find this angle is not working, try moving the elbow slightly up or down until you find the angle that works for you. Be careful not to push up against the ulnar nerve on the inside of your elbow (medial to the olecranon). If you feel nerve pain at the elbow, adjust your elbow so the point is not against the door.

Secondly, strengthening the upper back will help correct the muscle imbalance. You can easily work on strengthening your upper back by squeezing your shoulder blades together in the back as if you were trying to make them touch in the middle. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 3-5 times, depending on your comfort.

Thirdly, stretching your neck can be accomplished by gently bringing your ear to the shoulder on the same side. As with the pec stretch, hold for 30 seconds, and then do the other side. You can try bringing the ear slightly behind your shoulder to stretch the anterior muscles of the neck (anterior trapezius and scalene). If you feel like stretching is not working well, try applying a heat pack for a few minutes (or have a warm bath) before you stretch. Be careful not to make it too hot! Applying heat will make the muscles more pliable and easier to stretch. You can also apply a cold pack after stretching to prevent inflammation. I recommend the cold pack for no more than 10 minutes.

Hopefully, with daily stretching and strengthening, you will find it much easier to sit up straight for longer periods at a time and feel less chronic pain in this area! Ahhhhhh, much better!


In health and happiness,


Laurie Monks, RHDS