When we think of poor posture, we usually picture a hunched upper back, a rounded neck and shoulders, and a lowered head. These are all common signs of bad posture, but the effects of these habits are much wider than just these body parts. In fact, poor posture is a common cause of something known as upper crossed syndrome, in which the chest can experience pain along with the neck and shoulders. The chronic nature of this pain means that many people will seek out Tucker chiropractic care to find relief from these symptoms, especially chest pain.
About Upper Crossed Syndrome
When the muscles near the back of the neck and shoulders are overactive and become strained, the muscles in the front of the chest, the major and minor pectoralis muscles, can become shortened and tight in response. Surrounding counter muscles can then become weakened due to underuse. In upper crossed syndrome, this then causes weak muscles in the front of the neck and the lower shoulders. The name “upper crossed syndrome” refers to the x-like shape that develops across these overlapping muscle regions.
The most common cause of this condition is poor posture, especially that brought on by extended periods using a laptop or computer, watching TV, and using tablets or cellphones. Some cases may occur as a result of other conditions and athletic activities, but bad posture is generally assumed to be the cause.
Signs of upper crossed syndrome include a head that is consistently leaning forward, curvature in the cervical spine or thoracic spine, rounded shoulders, and visibly deformed muscles. Headaches, neck pain, fatigue, difficulty sitting, and restricted range of motion may also occur in addition to chest pain.
Posture and the Respiratory System
Another kind of chest pain can result from poor posture: pain in the lungs. This is because posture has an impact on the way we breathe, namely moving us away from belly breathing and towards a more chest-focused breathing pattern.
The proper way of breathing, belly breathing, pulls down on the diaphragm (the muscle between your chest and stomach) in order to pull air into the lungs. This fully inflates the lungs, allowing in as much air as possible to fully oxygenate the system. When you breathe from the chest, you are relying on the weaker secondary muscles in your neck and collar bone rather than the diaphragm. This only partially inflates the lungs, causing less air to enter.
A hunched or slouched posture can further compress your lungs, preventing you from getting enough air. This can cause pain in the chest, especially during any form of physical activity.
In addition to reducing chest pain from these situations, improving your posture can have a positive impact on other areas of health. The most straightforward way to do this is to pay close attention to how you sit and stand and work to correct bad habits. Ideal posture when standing includes standing up straight and tall with your shoulders back, stomach tight, and weight mostly on the balls of your feet. Your head should be level with your arms hanging at your sides and feet shoulder-width apart.
When sitting, make sure that your feet fully touch the floor, shoulders are relaxed, your lower body is supportive, and that any screens are eye level. Avoiding leaning the head forward to look at screens is critical.
The best way to manage posture is as a preventative measure. The forms above should be encouraged, which may involve limiting time spent using screens and taking frequent breaks from sitting to walk and stretch. Regular cardiovascular exercise and breathing exercises can also help with concerns related to the heart or lungs.
Treatment for Upper Crossed Syndrome and Other Conditions
When poor posture is maintained for a long time, it can cause chronic pain and conditions that may worsen on their own even once posture is improved. This includes upper crossed syndrome as well as other spinal misalignments.
Physical therapy is the most common option, along with chiropractic adjustments, as it helps to both strengthen weak muscles and relax tight areas of the body. Certain exercises, like lying on large yoga balls or using bands for arm stretches, have been shown to be effective for chest-related pain.
At AICA Tucker, our physical therapists work together with chiropractors, medical doctors, pain management specialists, and others to create a comprehensive care plan. This allows you to focus on your posture and a range of other conditions at the same time, treating your body holistically to reduce chest pain in the future.