Treatment of Cervical Postural Syndromes
What is Cervical Postural Syndrome?
The cervical spine refers to the top part of the spine or what you would think of as your neck.
Cervical postural syndrome then simply refers to a condition where one adopts poor posture of the neck which often occurs in combination with poor posture of the shoulders, upper back and middle back.
Although poor posture can look different on different people, typically cervical postural syndrome is associated with forward head posture where the head and neck lie in front of the trunk. Forward head posture often goes hand in hand with a protruding chin, rounded shoulders and increased curvature in the upper back.
When you are in an optimal posture the load of your head and the force of upper body movements are evenly dispersed through your spine and the muscles of the head, neck and shoulders. You can only imagine that sustaining positions of poor posture can lead to muscle imbalances and place excessive load on specific soft tissues, joints and bones of the head, neck and upper back. Over time, this can lead to tissue damage and signals of pain to alert the body of this dysfunction.
What are Risk Factors for Postural Syndrome?
Individuals who spend a lot of time in one specific position or posture are at the highest risk of developing cervical postural syndromes. It can become tiring to stay in one position for a long period of time and when our muscles get tired, they adopt other positions that are not always ideal. We tend to fall into positions where the bones and joints are left to bear the forces imposed instead of the muscles. These positions are not ideal and lead to postural syndromes.
Those who are particularly at risk include individuals who spend a great deal of time focussing on something in front of them or below their line of vision such as people that sit in front of a computer, spend hours reading, studying or driving. This also includes individuals who spend hours browsing on their tablets and/or smartphones. In addition, every day activities that require both arms to be working in front of the body, such as cooking, cleaning and gardening to name a few, can also be particularly taxing on our posture.
In sport, the same principals apply. Athletes are at risk of developing postural syndromes if their sport requires them to maintain a position for a prolonged period of time. Cyclists are a specific population that fall in this category.
What Causes Cervical Postural Syndrome?
This question ties into the last. Cervical postural syndrome is caused by poor postures that are sustained for long periods of time. Over time, the body adapts to bad posture. There can be changes in length of some of our muscle groups, activation of some muscles becomes inhibited while other muscle groups can become more dominant ultimately causing muscle imbalances. This can also lead to changes in boney alignment and added strain on structures such as the joint, tendons, discs etc. Our body tissues can only take so much. You may not feel any discomfort at first when you adopt poor postures but eventually, when you have exceeded the tissue capacity for strain, pain will develop.
What are the Symptoms of Postural Syndrome?
Symptoms can vary between individuals. The most common complaint is a dull ache or burning pain in the neck, mid to upper back and/or along the tops of the shoulders. Occasionally, individuals may complain of headaches.
Generally speaking, the symptoms are provoked when individuals are in the faulty posture and tend to improve once they correct their posture or change positions.
Treatment for Postural Syndrome?
Cervical postural syndrome is best managed by improving postural imbalances through an individualized corrective exercise program, manual therapies, ergonomic adjustments, and lifestyle changes. A skilled physiotherapist or chiropractor can work with you to develop an individualized treatment program that will be targeted to your specific needs.
Full recovery can take anywhere from 4 weeks to 3 months. Keep in mind that you will need to make changes in muscle flexibility, strength and endurance which takes time and commitment to a regular exercise program. To speed up your recovery and prevent future re-aggravation, you will need to make adjustments to your posture and modify any activities that provoke your symptoms.
Exercises for Postural Syndrome?
Here is a list of generalized exercises that can help with postural syndrome. Keep in mind that everyone’s muscle imbalances and postural dysfunction is different and there is no one size fits all approach to treat this condition. You can try these exercises as long as they help your symptoms but if you continue to experience pain or discomfort, we recommend visiting a trusted physiotherapist or chiropractor.
- Gentle chin tucks while elongating the spine
- Gentle shoulder blade pinching and releasing
- Pectoralis Stretching
- Cat and Camel Mobilization of Spine on all 4s
- Mobilization of Upper Back on Foam Roller
- Ts, Ws and Ys over a Swiss Ball
- Snow Angel on the Wall
- Wall Push Up
- Wall Slides for Serratus Anterior
- Bird Dog
Your physiotherapist or chiropractor can advise you on the specifics including sets, reps and duration for holding these exercises based on your symptoms and the stage of healing you are in.
Postural Supports that can Help with Cervical Postural Syndrome?
There are numerous postural supports available on the market and it can be intimidating trying to decide which one will be beneficial for you.
The key to finding a helpful posture support is finding something that will help YOU maintain a neutral spine. A support that works for someone else may not work for you so be wary about taking recommendations from friends and colleagues. It is always best to try the support first hand and see how it affects your posture-whether it improves it or not.
Also, be cautious of over correction. You don’t want a posture support to push you too far past your optimal position because that can also cause strain and discomfort. You also may not have the mobility in your spine to accommodate such a big change and as such will be forced to compensate elsewhere in the body.
Also keep in mind that a posture support doesn’t have to always keep you in perfect posture but it can also serve as a reminder to correct your posture on your own.
Below we have listed a few postural supports that we recommend to our clients at Rebalance Sports Medicine. A trusted physiotherapist and/or chiropractor can help you choose the supports that are right for you.
- Lumbar Roll (D shape)
- Lumbar Roll (5” round)
- Posture Medic posture brace
- Postural taping
- Fully adjustable Ergonomic Chair
Life is unpredictable and you cannot always rely on these posture supports so be sure to implement a corrective exercise routine so that you can make positive changes to your posture that will be lasting. Contact us if you require any assistance.
Alishah Merchant, FCAMPT Physiotherapist
Alishah Merchant is a FCAMPT physiotherapist practicing at Rebalance Sports Medicine in downtown Toronto.