4 Ways to Loosen Tight Trapezius Muscles

Tight traps--Almost everyone has them, and everyone knows how they feel. It's as if you are constantly having a weight on your shoulder. You feel tightness into your upper back, arms and neck. Sometimes head aches develop from the tight muscles in your neck.  Tightness of the trapezius muscles affect many people in different situations. Maybe you have started working out. Maybe you have been doing a lot of overhead activities such as swimming or playing tennis. You might have carried heavy objects or been sitting in one position for a long period of time. Maybe you're just stressed.

Your trapezius muscle consist of three parts and has many different functions, including lifting your shoulders, holding up your neck and head and moving your shoulder blade. Therefore, when tight it affects your entire body as well as your training, since your biomechanics will change.

Tight traps are bound to happen. They are not serious enough to require seeing a doctor, but they are significant enough to influence your training and overall well-being. Use these guidelines to help you prevent and  deal with them on your own and quickly.

1. Check for tightness throughout the day.

Whether you are 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, not pushed forward. You can easily check this by simply letting your shoulders "fall." You often will realize then that you had them in a shrugged position for too long a time.

2. Do shoulder shrugs.

To prevent this tightening of the traps and to release tension from the traps, do shoulder shrugs regularly throughout the day. Exaggerate them 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.

3. Stretch your traps.

Here's how to stretch tight traps, or those that may become tight after a long day or work or training:

Positioning:  You can do this sitting or standing. Always have your hand on the shoulder which side you want to get stretched to prevent your shoulder from moving up. The other hand is on the top of your head with your fingers pointing towards the back. Your neck should always remain inline with your back and the only body part that is moving is your head

Forward stretch:  Gently pull  your head forward with your chin towards your neck as if you were nodding. Hold that position for some seconds.

Side stretch: Gently pull your head to the side so that your ear approaches the opposite shoulder. Switch sides. Hold that position for some seconds.

Diagonal stretch: Gently pull your head diagonally forward so that your chin approaches the opposite shoulder. Hold that position for some seconds.

Repeat these stretches for the other side, again starting with the forward stretch but this time your hand is on the opposite shoulder.

Go trough these stretches two to three times in one setting and repeat throughout the day.

4. Get a massage or tennis ball your traps.

If you have time and the resources, get a massage. This will relieve you from tension and make you feel a lot better.

Now you are saying you can't get a massage? That is no problem because you can easily do that on your own. All you need is a wall and a tennis ball (this can also be any other ball, or round durable item e.g. it can be a closed can of beans, too).

First you can massage yourself by rolling the ball on your traps, with some pressure. You will feel how tight it is and there will surely be one spot that hurts the most. Wherever that spot is, stay there with your tennis ball and slightly push. Hold that for a while, 90 seconds the least and you should feel some release of tension. Repeat this until you feel that they have gotten looser.

If you feel the tightness on the back, more in your middle traps, and between your shoulder blades, you won't need to do Yoga exercises to reach there with the tennis ball. Find a wall, lean against that wall with the tennis ball between and roll up and down. Again, when you find a tough spot, stay there for a while. And repeat the rolling until you feel good.

Since massages are also helping to release toxins back into the blood stream, be sure to drink plenty of water after those.

If you follow these guidelines you will be able to get rid of tight traps faster and return to your daily activities after having that weight lifted off your shoulders.


Stefanie Bengel is a Certified Athletic Trainer currently living in Germany. She worked with the University of Utah Swimming and Diving team as a Graduate Assistant Athletic Trainer from 2007 to 2009.

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