Technology is our greatest gift and worst enemy. The amount of time we spend looking down at our smart phones and sitting at a computer has had a significant impact on our daily posture, resulting in excessive flexion of the cervical spine. Repeated, sustained hyper flexion is the leading culprit in a degenerative disorder known as Upper Crossed Syndrome.
Upper Crossed Syndrome occurs when the anterior muscles of the chest (mainly the pectoralis major) are tight and the posterior muscles of the neck and upper back (mainly the mid-lower trapezius and serratus anterior) are weak. This type of muscle imbalance can quickly lead to misalignment of the spine that causes pain and stiffness in the neck.
Upper Crossed Syndrome can often lead to Lower Crossed Syndrome as well, particularly with sustained sitting. Similar to Upper Crossed Syndrome, Lower Crossed Syndrome occurs due an imbalance between the anterior and posterior muscles, with weakness in the abdominal and gluteal muscles and tightness in the erector muscles of the thoracic-lumbar spine (back,) iliopsoas in the pelvis, and rectus femoris in the quads.
Thankfully there are a few simple steps you can take to guide yourself back into proper alignment.
1.) Be conscious of your posture and avoid sitting or standing in one position for too long. Set an alarm on that fancy smart phone of yours to go off every hour as a reminder to move around and give your body a break from a sustained posture.
2.) Stretch! Compensate for all that flexion by stretching those tight muscles in the opposite direction. Perform 3 sets of 30 second cervical extensions, cobra stretches, and quadriceps stretches 2-3 times a day.
3.) Combine your stretching with strength training. Improving the strength of your core muscles is one of the best things you can do improve and maintain good posture. Loaded carries (particularly farmer’s carries) result in reflex stabilization. The muscles react to the load in such a manner that it naturally aligns the spine to fully support the load in the most efficient way possible. In addition to loaded carriers you can perform high rep, light resistance strength training to target specific muscles such as the traps, glutes, and abdominals.
When your parents and teachers nagged you as a child to sit up straight, they knew what they were talking about. Poor posture can lead to chronic neck and back problems that become irreversible as we age. The sooner you acknowledge and correct your posture problems, the better off you will be in the long run.