Crossed Muscle Syndrome

Upper Crossed Syndrome and Lower Crossed Syndrome are two surprisingly common postural issues, that are caused by imbalances in muscle function. These issues arise when opposing (antagonistic) muscles are no longer working in harmony, and instead one group of muscles become “short” or “over facilitated” and the other group become “weak” or “inhibited”. Both groups of muscles are not functioning optimally, and soft tissue techniques can help to bring balance back to the muscle function.

They are called “crossed” syndromes because the muscles that are tight or weak make a cross. This is best shown in the image above.

Upper crossed syndrome, as the name suggests, is a condition affects the upper body, and is characterised by rounded shoulders and a forward head position. The muscles in the chest, back of the neck and upper back are “short” or “tight”; while the muscles in the front of the neck and mid back/shoulders are “weak” or “long”. But what does short, tight, weak and long really mean?

The muscles that are considered short or tight can more appropriately be called over facilitated, which means that when the nervous system sends the signal for contraction, the “short” muscles are signalled to contract more muscle fibres than the “weak” muscles. These over facilitated muscles therefore contract too much, and dominate the weak muscles.

On the other hand, the weak muscles can be described as inhibited. The nervous system doesn’t signal them to contract as much, so they end up being pulled by the over facilitated muscles, essentially they cannot fight back against this, which affects the posture. Both short and weak muscles are not functioning correctly, and they are “tight”, so they can both benefit from massage. Both tissues have dysfunction that can be helped through various massage techniques to relieve the tension and help to restore normal function.

Lower Crossed Syndrome has the exact same dysfunction in the muscle, except it is related to the muscles surrounding the lower back, pelvis and thighs. In Lower Crossed Syndrome, the pelvis is anteriorly tilted, which creates an exaggerated lumbar curve (lumbar lordosis). The over facilitated (short) muscles are the lower erectors and QL, as well as the psoas and illiacus. The inhibited muscles are the glutes, hamstrings and abdominals.

These syndromes are fairly common, with many people experiencing a degree of one of them. The dysfunction can arise from occupational, environmental, traumatic or congenital factors; which is particularly evident after a year with a large proportion of the population working from home with unsuitable desk set ups. This has lead to an increase in pain and postural issues. While massage can help, it is important to consider all aspects of your lifestyle to help correct these syndromes. This includes considering desk set ups, exercise types and incorporating stretching into a daily routine.


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