Imagine for a minute that you are stuck in traffic, running late for an important meeting. See yourself gripping the steering wheel, willing the cars in front of you to move. Now, direct your attention to your shoulders. It's likely that they've moved up toward your ears. The trapezius muscle, which runs from the skull to the vertebrae of the upper back, often tenses when you are stressed. It also contracts during many types of daily movements, such as working at the computer and holding the telephone between your shoulder and ear. Stretching the trapezius muscle can relieve some of this tension.
Typical Upper Trapezius Stretch
In the most common stretch for the upper trapezius, you stand or sit with your hands clasped behind your back. Then, you incline your head so that your left ear moves toward your left shoulder. This stretches the upper trapezius on the right side of your body. Incline your head to the other side to stretch the trapezius on the left side of your body.
If your work requires you to spend time in front of the computer or on the telephone, you likely hold your shoulders in a contracted position. This creates tension in the muscles, and if you don’t move your shoulders on a regular basis, the muscles can spasm. Try doing the trapezius stretch once every hour while you’re at work to restore movement in your shoulders.
Physiotherapists and other experts often prescribe trapezius stretches for recovery from injury. This stretch can benefit individuals who suffer from whiplash, wryneck or neck muscle strain. If you suffer from a neck injury, however, do not do this stretch unless advised by your health care professional.
Other Trapezius Stretches
While the upper trapezius stretch is certainly the most common of the trapezius stretches, other stretches target the middle and lower fibers of this muscle. When you bend over, cross your arms to grab the backs of your knees and slowly stand up, you stretch the middle fibers of the trapezius. When you bend at the waist and stretch your arms over your head, parallel to the floor, you stretch the lower fibers. These types of stretches benefit people who play racket sports, row or swim. If you do these types of physical activities, you use the middle and lower fibers of the trapezius extensively. Stretching them after your workouts can keep the muscles supple and flexible.
If you experience muscle tension or spasms in your trapezius, you are certainly not alone. While stretching these muscles can relieve some of the tension, you need to do them quite frequently. If you spend eight hours a day hunched over your computer, you’re creating a constant stress on your muscles that can’t be undone with a simple two-minute stretching session. Do the stretches frequently, ideally once an hour. Additionally, sometimes what you experience as a tight trapezius is actually caused by tight muscles in the front of your chest. If these stretches don’t relieve your shoulder tension, try adding some stretches for the pectoralis major to your stretching sessions.
Kat Black is a professional writer currently completing her doctorate in musicology/ She has won several prestigious awards for her research, and has had extensive training in classical music and dance.