Having "tight traps" seems to be the human condition as pretty much all of my clients carry tension in this area and have tight trapezius muscles. They're often the first muscles to bother you when under stress and can ache from the base of your skull, across the tops of your shoulders and down between your shoulder blades.
The trapezius is a broad triangular muscle which attaches to the base of the skull, and lies at the back of the neck, over the upper shoulders and extends down your upper back to your mid back. It is one of the most likely muscles to get sore knots or “trigger points”.
The trap muscles lift the outside of your shoulders to create a “shrug”. They move the head and neck toward the shoulder. The middle of the muscles pull the shoulder blades together, while the lower draw the shoulder blades downward. They support the weight of the arms.
Often these movements are at play when we are under stress, and doing the activities that cause stress. Trap pain is classic stress pain. Your shoulders ache, your neck hurts and it is often deep and achy. You may have a headache, especially in the temples or behind your eyes or at the base of your skull. You may feel burning between your shoulder blades after sitting at your computer without elbow support.
The GOOD NEWS is that there are ways to reduce or avoid this ongoing condition.
What causes Trapezius pain?
You can prevent and relieve pain in your trapezius muscles by exercising them. Exercise brings circulation to the muscles, and it relaxes them.
1. Check for Tightness Throughout the Day
Whether you're sitting at your desk or out for a run, periodically check where your shoulders are. Are they relaxed or are your traps contracted? Are you shrugging your shoulders?
In the ideal state, your shoulders should be in line with your collarbone; not higher or pushed forward. You can easily check this by simply letting your shoulders "fall." You may realize you have them in a shrugged position too often.
2. Do Shoulder Shrugs
To prevent your traps from tightening, and to release tension from the traps, do shoulder shrugs regularly throughout the day.
Exaggerate the movement by pulling your shoulders all the way to your ears, holding them there for a few seconds, and then letting them fall to a relaxed position. You can also loosen your traps by rolling your shoulders in both directions.
Here's how to stretch tight traps, or those that may become tight after a long day of work or training:
Positioning: You can do this sitting or standing. Your neck should always remain inline with your back and the only body part that is moving is your head.
Forward stretch: Interlace both hands at the back of your head and gently pull your head forward dropping your chin toward your chest as if you were nodding, allowing your elbows to fall forward. Hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds.
Side stretch: Gently pull your head to the side so your ear approaches the opposite shoulder. Switch sides. Hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds.
Diagonal stretch: Gently pull your head diagonally forward so your chin approaches the opposite shoulder. Hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds.
Repeat these stretches for the other side. Go through these stretches 2 to 3 times in one sitting and repeat throughout the day.
Take up Yoga
I can't recommend yoga highly enough. Workout fads come and go, but virtually none are as enduring as yoga (approx 5000 years). Yoga does more than burn calories and tone muscles - it's a total mind-body workout that combines strengthening, balance and stretching poses with deep breathing and relaxation. If you do nothing else, do yoga! If you do lots of other physical activity, do yoga!
If you're keen to give yoga a try or get back into it, my friend Sarah Lei from RunYoga teaches classes in 4 locations in Rotorua. RunYoga classes aren't just for runners - they're for everyone.
Don't currently have the budget or time for a massage? No problem. You can do it on your own. All you need is a wall and a tennis ball.
First, massage yourself by rolling the ball on your traps, with some pressure. You will feel how tight it is and there will likely be one spot that hurts the most. Wherever that spot is, stay there with your tennis ball and slightly push. Hold that for at least 90 seconds or until you feel a release of tension. Repeat this until you feel that they have gotten looser.
Get a Deep Tissue Massage!
If you have the time and resources, get a massage. This will relieve you from tension and make you feel A LOT better!
Deep tissue massage focuses heavily on the area of pain and tension, working to ease the symptoms and facilitate restoration by realigning the muscle fibres and connective tissue, improving blood flow and flushing away toxins. The movements are slow and work deep into the tissue and muscle. This deeper pressure is beneficial in releasing general or chronic muscle tension and pain. Regular sessions will help to increase joint mobility (eg. in the neck and shoulders), improve flexibility and provide longer term relief.