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Low tech solutions for high tech problems

April 11, 2011

Guelph has a large and very talented technology community.  From coders and systems analysts to web developers, designers, and AV creatives, the Guelph tech scene is ready, willing, and very capable of providing quality work.  But hidden within the lines of formula and code, lurking just behind the next cascading style sheet lies something more insidious than the viruses, malware, and phishing scams of cyberspace:  the Upper Cross Syndrome (cue scary music overlay with thunder and lightning).

Upper Cross Syndrome (UCS) is the name given to a condition affecting the upper torso and neck which involves a pattern of uninhibited/overactive  muscles coupled with weakened muscles.  The condition arises from maintaining certain postures for a prolonged period of time (such as sitting at a work station) which predisposes the muscles in the back of the neck and the front of the chest to become tight and overactive.  However, at the same time that those muscles tighten up, the opposite muscles in the front of the neck and those between the shoulder blades become weakened.  Over time this posture can cause headaches along with pain within the muscles and joints of the upper body.  And when you’re not feeling well it can affect both your productivity and creativity.

So why does this happen?  Well, we’re victims of our body’s own functional design.  We’re all familiar with the various reflexes we have:  Knee Jerk Reflex, the Gag Reflex, the Pain Reflex (pulling your hand away from something too hot).  Reflexes help our bodies to perform certain tasks automatically without us always having to think about them.  Another reflex, referred to as the Reflex of Reciprocal Inhibition, works to coordinate functional movements.  For example:  when you move a fork full of food from the plate to your mouth your biceps muscle is activated and contracts.  At the very same time, a reflex impulse is sent from the nerves in your biceps muscle, up through your spinal cord, and back down to your triceps muscle causing it to turn off, thus allowing your elbow to bend and the food to get to your mouth (you can imagine that if this reflex didn’t happen your arm would stay straight with the food stuck at the end of the fork).

The reflex for reciprocal inhibition is set up all over our bodies including the postural muscles of the neck, chest and upper back.  When sitting in front of a computer we often adopt a position where our arms are in front on the keyboard, our upper back is slouched and rounded, and our head is jutting forward on our neck (you’re guilty, I’m guilty, we’re all guilty).  Being in this position for a short time isn’t a problem.  But many of us are like this for a great portion of the day.  And as the day goes on the muscles of the upper neck and chest, continually activated in that position, become shorter, tighter, and overactivated.  In turn, the opposing muscles (those in the front of the neck, and those of the upper back between the shoulder blades), through the reflex of reciprocal inhibition, are told to turn off and thus are weakened/inhibited from helping to maintain good posture (see diagram above).

It’s not just people on computers who are susceptible to developing UCS.  Anyone who maintains the posture for long periods can develop it:  truck and taxi drivers, dental hygienists and overhead crane operators, professional models who pose for upper cross syndrome diagrams (the latter group is particularly at risk).

Although UCS is often associated with the high tech industry there are several effective low tech steps you can take to both prevent and treat it.  Below are some things that you can implement on your own right away:

The biggest and best thing you can do is to be more physically active throughout the day.  Avoid staying in front of the computer for too long a time.  Get up at least every 30 minutes to walk around and shake out the shoulders.  Set up a reminder on your computer or smart phone.  Also, try to incorporate more face-to-face in-office communication and less email/text messaging between co-workers.  This will further encourage you get up, up, and away from your desk.

Stretch out the muscles of your neck and chest on a regular basis to avoid them becoming too short and over activated.

Drink plenty of water.  Water helps to keep muscles and joints fresh, relaxed and hydrated.

Using a tennis ball between you and the wall to apply direct pressure can release some of the tension in already tight muscles of the upper back.

Sometimes, however, a little extra help is needed.  When that’s the case, chiropractic care can help through a combination of one or more therapies:

Myofascial Release is a soft tissue therapy that is used to decrease inflammation and contracted tissues (“muscle knots”) by helping to break up adhesions which develop between muscle fibres. It may involve either active or passive stretching along with direct pressure to the affected muscles.

Trigger Point Therapy aims to reduce tension within the muscle by applying direct pressure over the muscle knot.  As it is being performed the patient will often feel tenderness and resistance within the muscle which eventually gives way to a sensation of release and relaxation in that specific area.

Chiropractic Adjustment is a highly skilled and precise movement usually applied by hand to a joint of the body. Adjustments loosen the joint to restore proper movement and optimize function and allows the muscles to move more freely.

TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) is an electro-stimulation modality that is applied to the affected area using pads and works to decrease muscle spasm, pain and inflammation.  Depending on the setting, TENS can feel like an electrical tingle or a pulsing/contracting sensation within the muscles.

Upper cross syndrome is one of those occupational hazards that comes along with many of today’s work environments.  Being active and taking a preventive approach can go a long way to reduce its’ incidence.   If you have any questions about UCS or if you would like to find a Guelph chiropractor you can contact us at Clear Path Chiropractic Health Centre.

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From → Neck Pain

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