Hey Friends! This is my first installment in the Post-Partum Mobility series, during which we'll take a brief look at several soft tissue restriction issues that can arise in postpartum mamas for a variety of reasons. The human body is a delicate system that even when functioning optimally can present with some dysfunctions that build up over the course of time.
However, during pregnancy and the postpartum period not only do we have significant hormonal changes that affect tissue, but we see changes in posture, weight, gait, and skeletal structures that can all contribute to specific dysfunctions within the musculoskeletal system.
My goal for this little multi-part mini series is to address some of the more common conditions we see, present some root causes, and then educate on how we can prevent and manage these tissues on our own with minimal time and equipment.
So without further adieu, let's talk about our first one..and it's a doozy! UPPER CROSS SYNDROME. Man, it just sounds legit and scary, doesn't it?? Trust me, it doesn't have to be!
WHAT IS IT: Upper Cross Syndrome is a general term for a postural condition found in the neck, shoulder and thoracic region of the body--quite literally, the "upper" body. I could wax on about all the tiny details, but the main idea is that the muscles of your upper body present in an alternating pattern of tightness and weakness that can be discerned by visualizing an X pattern in the upper body--hence the descriptive "cross" term. For our purposes, we'll identify the typically tight and weak muscles as they present in this syndrome.
TIGHT MUSCULATURE: Anterior shoulder (pec major/minor) and posterior upper cervicals (subocciptals, upper trap and elevator)
WEAK MUSCULATURE: anterior cervical flexors and lower thoracic/scapular (rhomboids, lower trap)
WHY IT HAPPENS IN PREGNANCY AND POST-PARTUM: Again, the body is an intricate system and every individual is different, but here are some of the reasons why UCS may become an issue for some women during pregnancy:
1) Increase breast tissue due to hormonal changes
2) Altered Posture
3) Nursing position/baby holding position
4) Core Instability
5) Increase in sitting during pregnancy/post partum period
WHAT CAN WE DO TO PREVENT/MANAGE: There are a lot of things we can do to prevent and manage the onset of UCS during pregnancy and postpartum, and it doesn't have to be hard!
1) Stay active during pregnancy. This means continuing to move your body in ways that feel good and are appropriate for each stage of pregnancy. An increase in the amount and time spent sitting is common for a lot of women as they grow and move through each trimester, but for those who are able to stay active and allow themselves to consistently move up until delivery, the severity and onset of UCS can be greatly minimized.
2) Address any existing core instability issues through consistent core, pelvic floor, and breath work, and continue throughout pregnancy. There are many amazing core and pelvic health programs out there, but BIRTHFIT is exceptional in addressing everything you need to maintain a healthy core during pre-conception, pregnancy, and postpartum. This doesn't mean crunches! The work you will be doing is all very targeted to the transverse abdominals, multifidi, diaphragm, and pelvic floor musculature.
3) Postural awareness throughout the day. Being aware is half the battle! Watch yourself in the mirror to check for things like forward head posture (head protruding forward and not aligned with spine, chin jutting forward) and increased kyphosis through the thoracic spine (rounded, slumped shoulders). When nursing or holding baby, remember to bring baby to the breast and not vice versa (rounding your shoulders/slumping to bring the breast to baby). Using ample amounts of pillows and getting set up in a good position prior to nursing or holding baby for extended periods of time is super helpful. There are so many good nursing pillow options like the My Breast Friend or the Boppy that can help!
4) One of the easiest and best ways to address this issue is both preventative and corrective self-myofascial release. Ok, bear with me, that's kind of a confusing word, but we're basically talking about addressing the connective tissue restrictions in your body on a consistent basis, and making sure they're supple and moving properly. Prolonged poor posture, weakness, and immobility/poor stability can cause negative adaptations in your fascial (connective) tissue that lead to adhesions, which lead to pain/discomfort/eventual injury. I recommend using a few simple tools like lacrosse balls, foam rollers,(make sure to get a 3 ft long, high density roller for the most versatility) or my personal favorite THE ORB. These tools allow you to apply manual controlled pressure to areas of restriction that respond to this sustained pressure over time by loosening. For instance, in the case of UCS, we would specifically want to release areas like the pecs, upper traps, levator scaps (back of neck area), and rhomboids (between shoulder blades), as a start. In the next edition of the PP Mobility Series, I'll show you how to do just that!
5) Lastly, there are a few simple postural exercises that you can do on a regular basis to combat the muscular weakness that we see associated with UCS. I'm not talking getting in the gym and lifting 500 lbs with your chin tucks. I'm talking very easy, high repetition corrections that can be done multiple times throughout the day, most of the time from a chair, in your car, or at your standing desk while working. Again, we'll address some of those exercises in a follow up segment of the PP Mobility Series!
Stay tuned for our next installment of the PP Mobility series, where we'll tackle my favorite ways to perform self myofascial release on tissues to ease the symptoms of Upper Cross Syndrome. If you've ever dealt with UCS before, what are some of the ways you've been able to manage it? Comment below and share with us your secrets!