The Trapezius Muscle
The traps are the most commonly problematic muscle in the entire body. They have a huge number of functions that move the head, neck, shoulders, arms, and, and entire back. They used extensively both in movement and everyday posture, which means that any improper patterns will impair your workout and your day-to-day life. If you have head or "neckaches", shoulder pain and weakness, chronically poor posture particularly hunched and rounded shoulders or a forward-falling, this post is for you.
A note on movement function and dysfunction
The systems essential to moving your body—bones, muscles, and connective tissue—can be thought of as levers, pulleys, and weights. Every dysfunctionally shortened muscle has an equal and opposite lengthening effect on muscles that do the opposite action. The lengthened muscles may contract in response. For both shortened and lengthened muscles, this state of constant contraction and tightness is hard on the muscles, as it restricts blood flow and metabolite (waste) removal, and exerts constant tension on the tendons where the muscles attach to bone. The shorter muscles pull bones and joints out of their natural position in the direction of the tight muscles. Left too long unresolved, the incredibly adaptive systems of your body will change. Fibrotic adhesions help pull joints back into place, and eventually bones will thicken to support what isn’t being adequately supportive.
Acute traumas such as whiplash from a car accident, or a torn muscle or ligament, are obvious problem causes, but your body also undergoes chronic trauma when you maintain poor posture or perform repetitive movements.
The entire trap is in almost constant use stabilizing the body parts mentioned above (the only exception would be when you’re fully reclined). If your posture is good, activation is minimal when standing and sitting. If your posture has any problems, activation will be strong, throwing the muscle off balances.
Although the fibers are continuous, functionally the trapezius can be thought of as three muscles.
Upper Traps – overactive and shortened
The upper fibers shrug your shoulders and move your head and neck backward, and keep your head from flopping forward when you’re looking at your phone. When you have neutral, ideal posture, they aren’t in use much at all! They tend to be short, tight, and overused because most people spend a lot of time in static positions with the head forward or the shoulders elevated. Head forward activities include looking at the phone or reading a book with your head pointed downward and peering at a computer screen that’s too low; or any activity that requires holding your head back for a long time. Shoulder elevation occurs when using a keyboard that’s too high, hunching the shoulders out of stress, or holding a phone between your head shoulder.
If your head juts forward over your chest, or your shoulders are chronically hunched and pulled forward, your upper traps are involved.
Middle Traps - underactive and lengthened
This portion pulls the shoulder blade inward. When told to “sit up straight”, these muscles are engaged. As you can guess, most people don’t sit up straight very much, so these tend to be weak. We allow our shoulders to fall forward into a rounded position.
Lower Traps – underactive and lengthened
These counter the hunching effect of tight upper traps. When they’re weak they can’t keep the shoulders from elevating toward your ears.
Releasing the upper traps
Whether done by a professional or by yourself at home, manual therapy and mobility techniques to lengthen and soften overtightened muscular and fascial (connective tissue) are essential.
Relaxing the muscle (reducing its state of overcontraction) and softening any overadhesive connective tissue comes first, preparing the muscle for stretching techniques. This step includes working out the “knots”—small, hypersensitive, tender, and painful spots in the muscle. Warm compresses and heating pads relax the muscle.
The release step may cause an immediate reduction in any pain symptoms you are experiencing. Tight upper traps cause headaches and headaches. You may notice an aching pain behind the eyes, along the side of the neck, and at the base of the skull on the sides of the spine.
Lengthening the upper traps is done by stretching, which may be done by the therapist or the client on themselves. Your therapist may use advanced muscle energy techniques for quicker and more effective elongation.
Strengthening the middle and lower traps
You’ll be working with a professional who’s well-versed in exercise techniques for this step. A pretty simple exercise is similar to the “superman” exercise. Start by lying face down on a mat, bench, or stability ball, with your arms out to your sides at 90 degrees, like an airplane. Gently pinch your shoulder blades together. Raise your arms up toward the ceiling, maintaining your shoulder blades in place. Either hold your arms in that position for 30-60 seconds (or less, if you can’t do 30 seconds)—this is called an isometric exercise. Or, you can repeat the movement for 10 repetitions three times, with a minute of rest between each set. Move in a gentle, intentional manner.