Understanding Upper Cross Syndrome

Upper Cross Syndrome

At some point or another, you’ve probably experienced a sore neck or upper back after working for long hours. Usually the soreness goes away, but over time this neck and upper back pain can develop into a more serious condition called Upper Cross Syndrome.

Upper Cross Syndrome, also known as Upper Crossed Syndrome or UCS, is generally caused by overly tight chest and rear neck muscles exerting too much force on weak upper back and front neck muscles. The resulting pulling effect causes the shoulders and neck to shrug forward, while the back hunches upward. Symptoms can include a hunched back, worsening posture, headaches, chronic neck and upper back pain, and even degeneration of joints or tissue in the neck and upper back.

Causes of Upper Cross Syndrome

One of the main causes of Upper Cross Syndrome is poor posture, either when sitting or exercising. A person’s posture often worsens throughout the day as gravity puts more strain on the muscles of your back and neck. Poor posture when sitting can also be caused by looking down at your cell phone or computer, reading a book, or sleeping in a chair for too long.

3 Tips to Prevent Upper Cross Syndrome

Because UCS is caused by weakened, imbalanced muscles and poor posture, it’s important to work on building muscle groups equally when strength training, taking care not to favor certain muscle groups over others. Stretching and maintaining proper posture throughout the day can also greatly reduce the likelihood of UCS.

1) Improve Your Posture

An easy way to avoid UCS is to practice your posture, sitting up straight with your head squarely between your shoulders. Avoid slouching or leaning heavily to one side while sitting or standing.

Whenever you feel yourself starting to slouch, try this posture-correction exercise to realign your spine.

***Disclaimer: Always consult with your doctor before starting any exercise program.  If you experience any numbness, tingling or reproduction of your symptoms, please contact your doctor. 

Posture Correction Exercise

  • Stand with your back against the wall, feet hip-width apart an about a foot away from the wall, knees slightly bent.
  • Start by drawing your shoulders back against the wall, opening your back up through the front of the shoulders.
  • Roll your pelvis forward or back so that there is a slight arch in the lower back. Control any excessive arch by engaging your lower core.
  • To position your head, nod your chin slightly to bring the neck back to neutral, the plane of the face parallel to the wall.
  • Hold this position for 5 seconds.
  • Relax and complete 2 sets of 5 repetitions.

2) Stretch to Release Tension

If your neck and shoulder muscles start to feel tense, take a break from your work to move around and stretch. Below are a few stretches for your neck and shoulders that can help reduce muscle tension and alleviate pain associated with Upper Cross Syndrome.

3) Build Upper Body Strength

These exercises can help you build upper body strength and avoid conditions like Upper Cross Syndrome.

Barrel Hug

  • Stand with a band around your shoulder blades and hold the ends with your hands.
  • Keep your arms out with the elbows slightly bent and bring your shoulders forward by making a circle with your arms like you’re hugging a barrel.
  • As you reach around the “barrel”, spread your shoulder blades apart.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you return to your starting position.
  • Complete 2 sets of 10 – 15 repetitions.


  • Tie an elastic band around a stable object or have a workout buddy hold the center of the band for you.
  • Taking each end of the elastic band, stand tall with abs tight and hold the ends in front of you with elbows bent next to your sides at a 90-degree angle.
  • Pull the handles back until they are next to your side and elbows behind you.
  • Slowly release.
  • Complete 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

Eliminating UCS with Airrosti

If your UCS pain is left unresolved, it may start to impact your sleep or cause tension headaches.

Fortunately, our providers are experts at addressing the root cause of pain. We combine highly targeted manual therapy with specific exercises to help restore mobility and prevent future injury. Don’t live with UCS pain. Fix it fast with the help of an Airrosti Provider near you.

We also offer remote telehealth appointments. Click here or call us at (800) 404-6050 to learn more about telehealth and schedule your virtual appointment today.

View our medical disclaimer here.

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