The aim of this article is to discuss the model of upper-body dysfunction and how it relates to postural dysfunction, injuries, pain and discomfort, so that we can implement a corrective exercise plan to combat the effects detailed within the article.
If you are not in the mood to read the article or prefer listening to may accent then I’ve created a short video running through the upper body postural dysfunction and the ideal corrective exercise plan to implement. Once you’ve watch this you can then scroll further down and watch a 2nd video that runs through each exercise included in the corrective exercise sequence.
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So What is an Upper Body Dysfunction?
An upper body dysfunction is a postural imbalance typical of those who are office based workers, spending endless hours at a desk or computer, or even driving for long periods of time. This posture is characterised by an increase in the curve in the upper back (hyperkyphosis), forward rounded internally rotated shoulders and a forward head carriage.
As seen in the example below:
The Upper Body Dysfunction is a common compensatory pattern that has previously been called an Upper Crossed Syndrome due to the characteristic muscular imbalances where certain muscles are prone to hyperactivity and tightness, while others have a tendency toward under activity and weakness.
Various texts have discussed this tendency, commonly referring to theses groups of muscles as ‘tonic’ (short / overactive) and ‘phasic’ (long / under active).
Simplistically, an upper body dysfunction describes a muscular imbalance where your chest, shoulders and neck musculature become tight and overactive, in turn these muscles switch off (inhibit) their opposing muscles which are the mid and lower trapezius muscles (back musculature), serrates anterior (scapular stabilising muscles) and deep neck flexors so that these become under-active and weak.
Overtime our bodies become overloaded from our activities of daily living (work, driving, sport etc) and will usually adapt to the activities we do the most, which results in the ‘tonic’ muscles becoming overactive, tight and adaptively shortening while the ‘phasic’ muscles becoming under-active, weak and even ‘switching-off’.
What are The consequences of having an Upper Body Dysfunction?
These imbalances typical of an Upper Body Dysfunction or Upper Crossed Posture place additional stresses on the joints, tendons and ligaments as your body tries to compensate for the muscular imbalances.
On a basic level these individuals will usually suffer from some form of pain in either or all the following places:
– Upper Back
– Impingement Syndrome
– Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
– T4 Syndrome
– Degenerative Disc Disease of the Cervical and Thoracic Spine
– Rib Dysfunction
– Cervical radiculopathy, Disc Herniation, Protrusion
– Adhesive Capsulitis (Frozen Shoulder)
– Hyperkyphosis (Increased Curve in Upper Back)
– Scapular Winging (Shoulder Blade)
– Supraspinatus and Bicep Tenditnitis
– Subacromial (Shoulder) Bursitis
– Trigger Points
– Epicondylitis (Tennis & Golfers Elbow)
– Cervicogenic Headaches
The above mentioned conditions and injuries associated with an upper body dysfunction will be discussed on an individual basis in future articles. For now I would like to focus on the Upper Body Dysfunction as a whole and implement a corrective exercise plan that can be used from today to help counteract these issues and hopefully give you some relief from any pain and discomfort you are currently feeling.
When patients consult me on any of the conditions listed above, it is clear that they all suffer from the Upper Body Dysfunction but to a varying degree. It is possible that much of the variation in symptoms between individuals can be explained by a timeline of dysfunction, as it is evident that the Upper Body Dysfunction is a progressive syndrome in which structures of the body slowly modify over a period of time.
Over this period of time, as certain muscles shorten and adapt to the positions they are placed in continuously, hour after hour, day after day, they eventually inhibit their opposing muscles which slowly become elongated and weak. As the process continues the body compensates involving more and more additional structures to displace the stress and tension causing further dysfunction as you move further down the timeline of the Upper Body Dysfunction.
There is a predictable list of overactive and under-active musculature.
SCM / Scalenes
– Mid and Lower Trapezius
– Serratus Anterior
– Teres Minor
– Deep Neck Flexors
Corrective Exercise Plan
Having discussed the common compensatory patterns of an upper body dysfunction and the characteristic muscular imbalances and their consequences. Now I want to give you a corrective exercise plan that can be easily implemented at home in around 10-20 minutes per day without the need for much equipment.
I would however, always like to point out that I would first visit a chiropractor to assess your posture and movement patterns professionally, and to rule out any underlying conditions that such a workout may exacerbate.
There are far more exercises and rehabilitation protocols that can be addressed and implemented for such a common postural dysfunction, and more specific protocols for any additional conditions and injuries you may be experiencing as a consequence of an Upper Body Dysfunction, however, this corrective exercise plan would form the foundation to such a program and can be added too and tailored further down the line.
So to start we want a systematic process to target all the dysfunction areas highlighted above.
The workflow would follow like this:
Release —> Mobilise —> Stretch —> Isolated Activation —> Stabilisation
1. Release the tight musculature
(Hold for 30-60 seconds or until release is felt)
– Levator Scapular
– Upper Trapezius
– Pectoralis Minimus
2. Mobilise Thoracic (Tx) Spine (Upper Back)
– Foam Roll Tx (2-3 Minutes)
– The Windmill (5-10 each side)
– Kneeling Tx Rotations (5-10 each side)
3. Stretch Latissimus Dorsi and Back Musculature
– Childs Pose (Hold for 30 – 60 seconds)
4. Activate Mid & Lower Traps, Serratus Anterior, Deep Neck Flexors
– Isometric Chin Tucks (12-20 with a 2 second hold)
– Prone Cobra (12-20 with a 2 second hold)
5. Stabilisation of Scapula and Cervical Spine
– Plank (3 x 10 second hold)
I would recommend performing this routine once a day consistently. It is a process, its not a magic pill, it will take continued, consistent daily effort of around 10-20 minutes maximum a day. Over the coming weeks and months you will notice improved posture and movement as well as decreased pain and discomfort, but only if your consistent and maintain a positive frame of mind. It can be performed as an individual daily workout or can be integrated into your warm-up before activity instead of doing the general ‘run on the treadmill’ warm-up.
This corrective warm-up would replace your general warm up to good effect, as running on a treadmill can reinforce your compensatory patterns, so better to spend 10-15 minutes before your workout improving the quality of your movement and optimise your mechanics.
I have included the video below running through each exercise and the sequence to follow:
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Move Better, Feel Better, Live Better