Upper Cross Syndrome…Why is Everyone So Crossed? – Part 2
In the first part of this article (Upper Cross syndrome…Why Is Everyone So Crossed?), we went over the physical and anatomical attributes that contribute to upper cross syndrome. Not the most simple of things when you start peeling back the layers of possible muscular involvement. Now that we have the understanding lets look at the second part of this syndrome, which to some may seem like a strange angle. The emotional side of upper cross syndrome.
I want you to create a picture in your own mind. Start thinking of yourself as a young child. What did you like to do? What hobbies did you have? Did you like to play outside, climbing trees and digging in the dirt? Perhaps you liked to spin on the tire swing your dad had strapped to the big old oak tree in your backyard. Or maybe you loved pretending to be a superstar athlete scoring the last goal in the final seconds of the championship match (my personal favorite). I’m not pretending to have you on my psychologist couch right now. I’m just getting your mind thinking about that period of your life.
Now that you have that carefree picture in your mind, I would like you to move on a few years, just about when you started to hit puberty. The beautiful picture you had just so warmly created just melded into a shot of lanky limbs and acne. This is where I want to start with our story of upper cross syndrome.
Childhood is (obviously) full of development. This is especially true for kids as they are just reaching puberty, and as they begin to fully enjoy its hallowing effects. This is also a time of mental development. Their worldview is changing like a frickin’ hurricane, just like their bodies are springing into all sorts of new adventures.
All of the sudden those carefree days have transformed, they care about what others think of them. This is an important fact to acknowledge and really the basis of what I am writing on today. What others think. This is where the transformation from that beautiful picture you so lovingly created in your mind changes into the stress we feel even as adults.
Let us take a tiny break from this childhood psychology lesson and state the fact that I am not a child psychologist and not even remotely claiming to have all the answers to life’s truly important questions…on the top of my mind is whether mayonnaise or miracle whip is better. It is a real problem.
Anyway, continuing on…
So how do others opinions cause upper cross syndrome? I shall now divulge.
When children start going through physical changes, they start comparing themselves to other kids who are or are not also going through these same changes. If all of the sudden they see themselves as “different” the first reaction is often to not be different. This is also present in us as adults. The first thing we do in the morning is look in the mirror and wish we looked like so and so, or maybe had washboard abs (literally speaking, that would look really weird… think about it). All we are doing is comparing ourselves to some other standard. Now, this is not a pep talk to “be yourself” but what is important is to realize that we have these thoughts. And when we have these thoughts, whether we know it or not, we react physically to this.
A pubescent girl who was grown 5 inches in height compared to the 1 inch her classmates have grown is going to notice and start to react physically. You may have seen it but let me describe this picture for you. A tall young girl who stands a head above the rest of her friends begins to round her shoulders in order to make herself look not quite as tall. Her upper back also starts to have a hunched over look in order for her height to diminish even more. She may also slouch when she sits in chairs in order to remain at the same level as everyone sitting around her. It is purely an emotional response to being taller than her peers.
Under the same point but in opposite comparison, a short child will always seem to be trying to make themselves look as tall as possible. Walking and moving with a very upright posture which, in their minds, makes them look taller. I don’t usually say never but…I have never seen a short person with bad posture.
Let us dissect another example.
A young boy who is overweight. This is a common scenario these days and one that can truly cause this same reaction. Kids can be cruel when it comes to weight. This can have emotional effects on a child when they are starting to really listen to what others think of them. When weight is involved, the natural reaction when you are embarrassed about your weight is to try to hide it. We adults go to great lengths to hide our weight issues. Every piece of clothing is scrutinized for its ability to cover or hide certain parts of our body that we are not proud of. For kids, it is the same. The embarrassing parts of the overweight body for a boy are the stomach and chest. These parts can be emotionally minimalized by, once again, rounding the shoulders forward and flexing, or even sucking in the abdomen forward, creating an upper cross syndrome type posture.
These physical reactions mentioned may seem minor, but the issue comes when this is ingrained into the habits and postures of a child all the way through his/her development. The musculoskeletal system is going through drastic changes during this time and needs to develop in a healthy way. If these negative postural forces are being applied to the body throughout the process, it is going to have an effect on the end product. These imposed postures will carry into later teenage years and adulthood creating upper cross syndrome as a normal posture and lead to musculoskeletal issues later on.
Upper cross syndrome in these cases, at least at first, is due to a self-imposed emotional response, not an anatomical problem.
This philosophy can be applied to many other circumstances; not just childhood development. Our general well being can be personified in our posture. For example, a person who is having a horrible day is probably not going to have a superman-esque posture with thrown back shoulders, puffed out chest and chin reaching for the sky. They will probably have the “weight of the world” look and be a bit slouched. A person who is afflicted with chronic anxiety is probably going to have a resemblance to upper cross syndrome due to the body’s restriction and tightening of certain muscles during these attacks. Once again, the posture is a result of an emotional/ psychological response, not a structural source.
So what can we do about this?
First off, we can treat the structures that we talked about in Part 1 of this topic. Many of these structures are related to a physical feeling of stress and anxiety which can be the key to unlocking some tough cases.
Most prominently of those muscles, the iliopsoas which can cause feelings of anxiety in the gut as well as restrict the diaphragm which makes breathing feel restricted. Secondarily, the pectorals and serratus anterior which both restrict the movement of the ribs and thus the ability to inhale. These structures along with the others mentioned will allow the body to function in a better way physically and help the patient start to correct there posture.
After treatment of these structures, the patterns of habit will have to be changed by strengthening postural muscles to function in a better manner. This involves changing potentially lifelong ways of carrying their body. In other words, if they developed a forward shoulder posture in response to being embarrassed about a weight issue, or being made fun of for being taller than everyone else, these emotional patterns will have to change. And this takes not only physical strength but a mental decision to carry their body in a more positive, superman-esque way.
The body’s posture and upper cross syndrome have deeper ties to emotion than many realize. Yes, there are deviations from this just like anything, but we need to realize that when we are having emotional reactions to life events, everyday stresses, our body image, and even the height of our body (whether it tall or short) it is affecting the way our body is shaped.
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