Is Upper / lower cross syndrome affecting your ability to move?

Posted by Chris Weddell on 29 May 2014

Is Upper and/or lower cross syndrome affecting your ability to move?

Upper and lower cross syndrome is very simple to understand and because of this enables a treatment plan to be easily constructed. The name was coined by a revolutionary musculoskeletal scientist Valimar
Janda. He found common trends in people’s posture and was then able to predict a reoccurring pattern. This pattern is identified as alternating sides of facilitated (strong, short and overactive) and inhibited (long, weak and unable to be recruited because of the opposite facilitated) muscles which happen to come out like a cross on the upper body and on the lower body. So why do these syndromes exist?  What are the effects on the body and how do we treat it?

Upper and lower cross syndromes are very common in today’s society. It is more than likely directly related to the human race becoming increasingly sedentary. A considerable amount of time is spent sitting at a computer typing, using a mouse, and slouching with the head poked forward, upper-back rounded, shoulders internally rotated and the hips in a constant flexed and relaxed position.  So if you can relate to working long hours sitting at a computer, this article is right up your alley. It isn’t very hard to take one look at how someone walks runs or stands to tell what they do for a day job. Generally, what you see is someone walking, running and standing very much in a seated position. Sounds stupid I know, but it is so true. I’ll explain: The body is a very complex system and it automatically (using the autonomic nervous system) makes changes to posture to enable it to meet the specific demands placed on it at any one time. This is a survival reflex. Another way of putting it is your body will pretty much do anything it can do to move into a position, even if it means jeopardising posture. However, the body always sees this as a temporary measure, expecting things to be corrected. But what if things are not corrected? The simple answer is that problems eventually arise. This generally occurs in someone who is trying to be active but has a sedentary day job. So back to my earlier point regarding being in a permanent seated position, the body gets used to being in this position at work every day so people start developing upper and lower cross syndrome : tight facilitated on one side and weak inhibited (locked long) on the other side. This means that when a person stands up to walk, the body makes adjustments (sub consciously) to get you in an upright position, no matter how ugly it looks. This normally involves the stiff and tight muscles not moving at all and the bones and joints compensating by being pulled into terrible positions to make sure the body is upright and the eyes are level. Think over time how much compensation (muscles doing jobs they were never designed to do) occurs. Easy to see now how back pain and neck and shoulder problems occur at an increasingly alarming rate isn’t it?          

PoorPosture Lower2PoorPosture Mid2















The muscles that are facilitated with upper cross syndrome include the upper traps, levator scapula, sternocleidomastoid (SCM) and the pecs. This leads the deep cervical flexors, lower traps, and serratus anterior to be weak and inhibited. This is the stereotypical rounded shoulders/back and protruding neck that is so common place today.

In lower cross syndrome the facilitated muscles include the rectus femoris, iliopsoas and thoraco lumbar extensors. The abdominals and glute med, glute min and glute max are all weak and inhibited. This also leads to the stereotypical hyper-extended lumbar spine which causes numerous problems.

The system Janda has set in place with upper/lower cross treatment has made it that much simpler. It is easy to see what is tight, strong and facilitated and what is long, weak and inhibited. I find the most effective treatment is soft tissue work to release trigger points and fascial restrictions, especially in the tight facilitated areas. I then work on a stretching plan that opens up all these tight areas, leaving a brief window of opportunity to perform effective motor control (stability/balance) retraining. With the facilitated muscles reset, so they no longer provide fake compensation stability. This allows the body to get an idea of how to stabilize with authenticity. After this, the inhibited weak muscles need to be systematically functionally trained with monitored progressions to make sure the body doesn’t slip back into compensation mode. Following this simple systematic approach works really well for restoring balance to the body. This helps you move well so you can move often.

 PoorPosture Upper2