Sitting at a desk for eight or nine hours isn’t unusual for a great many people—it’s just another day at the office. It’s part of what millions of American workers do to make a living and support their families. However, as many studies are starting to show, sitting for these long lengths of time can be damaging to one’s posture. While a desk job may not be as dangerous as working in a coal mine or on a heavy construction site, it can still be hazardous to one’s health, leading to postural disorders such as Upper and Lower Crossed Syndromes, wherein a long-term sitting position can lead to the weakening of certain muscles and the lengthening of others.
Identified and given their names in 1979 by a Czechoslovakian doctor, Dr. Vladimir Janda, both the Upper Crossed Syndrome (UCS) and the Lower Crossed Syndrome (LCS) occur when muscles in the body weaken from inaction— from, for example, sitting all day, every day. Because all the body’s muscles are interconnected, other muscles need to pick up the slack. Simply said, when one muscle becomes weak, another muscle must take over the work.
Upper Crossed Syndrome (also referred to as “cervical crossed syndrome”) is caused by excessive, slouched-over sitting. Mid-back muscles become very weak. As a result, of this weakening in the back the pectoral and neck muscles tighten. This causes pain throughout the upper body.
In a case of Lower Cross Syndrome (also known as “pelvic crossed syndrome”), the abdominal and gluteus maximus muscles become weak from lack of use. As a result, the hip flexor and low back muscles become very tight, as they are forced to take over the work that the glutes and abdominals would otherwise perform. This causes pain in the lower body.
Upper Crossed Syndrome can occur simultaneously with Lower Crossed Syndrome. For example, the glutes can become so weak and the hip flexors so tight that the pelvis becomes rotated. A rotated pelvis can contribute to deteriorating posture for the upper body, leading to the stretching of mid-back muscles as well as the tightening of pectoral neck muscles.
Unfortunately, the damage doesn’t always stop there. These imbalances and movement dysfunctions may have direct effects on joint surfaces, thus possibly resulting in joint degeneration. There are many other consequences as well, including decreased range of motion, fatigue, arthritis due to uneven joint wear over time, increased risk for disc herniation (especially when poor posture is combined with exertion or repetitive flexion), headaches (such as migraines and tension headaches), teeth clenching, pinched nerves, reduced lung capacity, loss of overall height, reduced balance, poor digestion due to compression of internal organs, less energy, and poor mood and mood swings.
There are a number of options available for those with one or both syndromes. First of all, a chiropractor can confirm your condition and design a treatment plan to meet your specific needs, often with in-office therapy and at-home exercises. Remember—it is always advisable to see a medical professional before you begin any type of at-home or office exercises.
Significant steps towards a pain-free body include changing your lifestyle and being aware of your posture. It is important to understand what good posture entails and to be conscious of it throughout the day. The more you actively correct your posture, the more it will become a habit. It is important to avoid staying in one position for prolonged periods of time—especially the typical office posture of sitting with your back hunched, leaning forward. Get up and stretch regularly. Many people use a standing work station, while others prefer exercise balls in lieu of office chairs in order to maintain good posture and to avoid sitting still for hours at a time. Daily exercise is a great way to help your posture as well.