Tight trapezius muscles (the muscles between the neck and shoulders) are a common complaint among all adults.
Office workers often complain of a sore neck and tight trapezius muscles (also known as traps), but active adults are even more prone to pain and tightness, especially those who spend a lot of time lifting weights or participating in sports like cycling.
When tight traps go untreated for too long, they can cause pain in the neck, shoulders, and upper back. When they’re tight and overactive, you might also end up relying on them more when you’re performing daily activities or lifting weights in the gym.
If you struggle with tight traps and upper back pain, these three tips can help you loosen them up and improve your posture and lifting technique for good.
1. Perform Gentle Stretches Throughout the Day
There’s a lot of truth to the adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Instead of waiting until the end of the day, when your trapezius muscles are more likely to be tight and sore, it’s more effective to perform stretches throughout the day to keep them loose and relaxed.
Some of the best stretching exercises for tight traps are listed below:
Forward Neck Stretch
Start by sitting or standing up straight. Then, clasp your hands behind your head and gently pull your head forward, bringing your chin down toward your chest. Don’t push on your head with your hands — they’re just there to add a little extra weight. Hold this position for 10-15 seconds, then release.
Side Neck Stretch
Start by sitting or standing up straight again. Then, reach over your head and place your right hand on the left side of the head, just above your ear. Reach your left hand out to the side to deepen the stretch as you gently pull the right ear toward the right shoulder. Hold for 10-15 seconds, then switch sides.
2. Give Yourself a Massage
In addition to stretching, massage is one of the best things you can do to relieve tight trapezius muscles and prevent upper back and neck pain.
Of course, it would be great if you had the time and money to spend on a professional massage. But, if this isn’t feasible for you, don’t worry. You can still reap the benefits of massage at home with the help of a tennis or lacrosse ball.
Lean against a wall and place the ball between the wall and your traps. Lean against the ball and slowly roll up and down, stopping and pressing down when you reach a tender spot. Hold for about thirty seconds, or until you feel tension start to release. Repeat for as long as you like until you feel as though all the tense spots in your traps have loosened up.
3. Perform Scapular Stabilization Exercises
After you’ve stretched your traps and worked out tension, you’ll need to work on strengthening them to correct the poor movement patterns that contribute to your upper back pain.
Scapular stabilization exercises are some of the best for preventing tension in the neck and trapezius muscles. Some of the best ones to include in your routine are listed below:
90-90 Shoulder Rotation
Stand up straight against a wall with your arms extend to the sides in a “T” shape. Bend your elbows so that one hand is pointing up toward the ceiling and the other is pointing down toward the ground — both should form 90-degree angles.
Slowly rotate your arms to switch positions. Keep your shoulder blades and the back of your head glued to the wall for the whole exercise.
Find an object like a step or yoga block that is about 3-4 inches off the ground. Make sure it’s wide enough for you to place both your hands on it while you’re in a plank position.
Once you’re set up properly, open your feet to slightly wider than hip-distance. Slowly lower your right arm off the step to touch the ground. Then, pull your arm back up, keeping it straight and allowing the shoulder to do the work. Repeat 5 reps on each side.
The Bottom Line
If you struggle with tight traps and upper back pain, these three tips can help you loosen them up and improve your posture and lifting technique for good. The key with any corrective stretching/exercise routine will be consistency, so start today and utilize these exercises daily for the best results.