Massage Therapy in Central Bristol

Did you know desk jobs can cause shoulder pain, tension and stiffness?

We see and treat a lot of people who suffer from upper back and neck pain and most of the time this is caused from spending hours sitting ‘hunched’ in front of a computer. Therefore it’s usually poor posture that causes this.

Since our move to Central Bristol, we’ve been seeing even more clients with this problem because of the surrounding offices.

We have therefore started offering Seated Massage which is ideal to help relieve pain in your upper body. It is performed when you are clothed, so therefore you can pop in on your lunch break and the sessions can be shorter.

When you sit at a desk for long periods, muscle imbalance can develop in your upper body, which is commonly called: ‘Upper Crossed Syndrome’.

‘Upper Cross Syndrome’ is when muscles become deformed and form an over lapping pattern of underuse and overuse. This can cause tension in the muscles and you may feel stiffness and a dull ache in your neck and upper back.

Massage Therapy can help to relieve tension from the overworked muscles and help to stop the pain.

There is evidence to suggest that as well as sitting hunched in front of a computer all day, it can be caused also when living a sedentary life and from activities such as driving and reading.

The image above shows which muscles are typically tight and weak in Upper Crossed Syndrome.

This image also shows tightness in the Suboccipital muscles, but this is usually when you have ‘Forward Head Posture’ as well. 

What is ‘Forward Head Posture’?

Forward Head Posture (as shown in the above image) is very common and occurs when the head extends too far in front of the gravity line and it usually coincides with having Upper Crossed Syndrome.

Here, the Suboccipital muscles have to work extra hard to tilt the head and bring it to “eye level”.

“For every inch of Forward Head Posture, it can increase the weight of the head on the spine by an additional 10 pounds.” -Kapandji, Physiology of Joints, Vol.

From reading the above quote, imagine how much pressure this is putting on your spine! There is evidence therefore that having Forward Head Posture can also cause dysfunction further down your body and spine and reach your Coccyx (Tailbone). This is because your whole body is interconnected.

The overused muscles in Upper Crossed Syndrome are typically the Levator Scapula, Upper Trapezius and the Pectoralis Minor and Major (Pectorals).

The Upper Trapezius is held in a lengthened, but tight and dysfunctional state and the Levator Scapula and Pectorals are short and tight. 

The action of the Upper Trapezius and the Levator Scapula muscles are to elevate the shoulder blades (Scapula) and they work hard during Upper Crossed Syndrome. The Lower Trapezius which pulls the Scapula down (depression) therefore becomes weak.

The Pectorals are meant to pull the shoulders forward (protract the Scapula), but in Upper Crossed Syndrome, they are stuck in this state for hours and therefore become exhausted.

Eventually, the underused muscles (Rhomboids, Serratus Anterior, Deep Cervical Neck Flexors Lower Trapezius) can forget how to fire up and function if unused for a long time. This can cause a vast array of problems throughout your body and so it’s better to address the problem sooner rather then later, like many conditions.

Human beings are not meant to be in the same position for hours on end, your body is designed to move, and as well as injuries, there’s evidence to suggest that Upper Crossed Syndrome and Forward Head Posture can eventually cause headaches.

So, how can Upper Crossed Syndrome get treated? 

The short muscles ideally should get lengthened and the weak muscles strengthened. It’s also beneficial to improve your posture.

Every muscle is the body has another muscle that does the opposite action to it and they are meant to work together as a team.

For example, the Deep Cervical Neck Flexors flex the head forward and the Upper Trapezius and Levator Scapula extend the head backwards. The Rhomboids retract the scapula (bring the shoulder blades back and together) and the Pectorals protract the scapula (bring the shoulder blades forward and away from each other).

In Forward Head Posture and Upper Crossed Syndrome as the Neck Flexors aren’t being used properly, the Antagonistic muscles to them (Upper Trapezius and Levator Scapula) try to perform the Neck Flexors job too. This is why the overused muscles become strained.

By regularly stretching your Upper Trapezius and Levator Scapula, this not only lengthens and releases tension from them, but it can also help to get your Neck Flexors functioning again. This is because function rather then dysfunction starts occurring.

Below, are images where I’m performing stretches for the Upper Trapezius and the Levator Scapula.

These are great stretches if you are starting to feel some achiness, stiffness or tension in your upper body and you work at a desk, drive a lot or generally sit down a lot.

From my experience, I believe it’s best to hold any stretch for at least for 20 – 30 seconds as this allows time for the muscle to stretch properly. Please make sure you are standing up fairly straight too and only move your head as far as feels comfortable but also where you can feel that the muscles are stretching.

The stretch below helps to lengthen and release tension from your Pectoral muscles and is my favourite one as it focuses on each side individually. Therefore you only need to stretch one side if you have short Pectorals only on one side of your body.

To do this, you stand in a open doorway and place one arm on the inside of the door frame and step forward with the leg on the same side. As the static door frame is holding your arm where it is, but you are moving your leg, you should feel a stretch in your Pectorals and as if your ‘opening up’ your chest. 

The exercise below is a good Rhomboid muscle strengthener as it retracts your shoulder blades and can also help improve posture.

I recommend doing this as many times in a day as possible and holding your shoulder blades in this position for about 10 seconds.

Try to imagine there is a finger in between your shoulder blades and then squeeze the imaginary finger by just using your shoulder blades. Please try not to use your shoulders to do it too, as the aim of this is to utilise only the shoulder blade muscles.

The movement can feel subtle, but it’s very effective. 

You can also utilise the Lower Trapezius muscles by pulling your shoulder blades down after pulling them back as this depresses (pulls down) the shoulder blades. This works the Lower Trapezius muscles, which as mentioned already, are usually weak in Upper Crossed Syndrome.

The below exercise helps to strengthen the deep neck flexors (such as the Longus Colli). 

Start by standing flat against a wall with your head also against the wall if possible. Next, move your head down as if tucking your chin in (as if your trying to make a double chin). This activates your Deep Cervical Neck Flexors.

Then move your head so it is back against the wall again. Repeat this movement about 10 or 20 times and perform it several times a day.

Finally, the image below illustrates the ‘Scapula Push-up’ exercise which can help to strengthen your Serratus Anterior muscles. They are usually weak in Upper Crossed Syndrome and this exercise is basically ‘The Plank’, which is a well known pose in yoga practice.

Please make sure you keep your whole spine aligned like a ‘plank’ of wood (from your Coccyx up to your neck) so that your lower back isn’t dropping inwards. This can help to develop your ‘Core’ muscles too.

It’s preferable to hold this position for up to 10 seconds if your able to.

To improve your posture when sitting or standing, you can also imagine there’s a helium balloon attached to the top of your head and that you are being lifted up into the air by it. This can help develop ideal alignment throughout your body.

As experienced Sport and Remedial Massage Therapists we can also utilise tests to locate which of your muscles are weak and which are overused. We can then recommend exercises for you which are ideally suited to your individual lifestyle and needs.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about the exercises or for further information.



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