Whether you're stressed from work, family issues or graduate school, your trapezius feels like it is creeping up closer to your ears, raising your shoulders with it. You look in the mirror and wonder where your neck has gone. Relaxing your trapezius and other back muscles is the first step to alleviating tight muscles. Take frequent breaks from your desk and spend some time alone to stretch. A full night of sleep will also prolong the relaxation after you exercise.
Upper Trapezius Stretch
Although your trapezius is one broad muscle that covers almost your entire upper back and part of your neck, stretching your upper trapezius can lengthen your neck. Stand and put your right hands behind your lower back. Then tilt your head to your left to stretch the right side of your neck and the trapezius. If you tilt your chin toward your left chest, you will also stretch the levator scapulae that runs beneath the trapezius from the lateral part of your posterior neck to the top of your shoulder blade. This muscle is also the culprit that causes tight shoulders and neck along with the trapezius. Hold this stretch for five to six deep breaths and repeat the stretch on the opposite side.
Because your trapezius shares many nerves and connective tissues with other muscles in your shoulders and back, stretching other muscle groups can promote relaxation in your trapezius. The child pose is a common yoga pose that relaxes your back, shoulders and hips while you focus on deep breathing. Kneel on the floor on your knees and hands. When you exhale, sit back toward your heels and keep your hands fixed on the floor with your elbows straight. You should feel a stretch from your armpits and shoulders, through your trapezius and down to your lower back and upper buttocks. Hold this stretch for six to 10 deep breaths. Repeat this exercise as many times as necessary to relax.
When stretching doesn't seem to do the job, give yourself a deep tissue massage by using a foam roller, which is a 1-foot-long cylinder made out of thick styrofoam. When you lie on top of the roller with your upper back, the compression releases the shortened tissues, allowing more tissue mobility and blood circulation. Cross your arms in front of your chest, and roll slowly and carefully up and down your upper back, midback and neck until the tenderness subsides.
Chronic tightness in your trapezius can lead to limited mobility in your upper spine and neck, causing jaw and shoulder stiffness and pain, migraines and even hip pain. Check with your chiropractor or physical therapist before starting any exercise routine. Treat yourself to a deep tissue or circulatory massage that emphasizes your shoulders and trapezius to enhance your relaxation.
- ExRx.net: Upper Trapezius Stretch
- Functional Movement Systems: Foam Roller - Mid Back
- NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training, 3e; Michael Clark
- Art of Living: Child Pose
Nick Ng has been writing fitness articles since 2003, focusing on injury prevention and exercise strategies. He has covered health for "MiaBella" magazine. Ng received his Bachelor of Arts in communications from San Diego State University in 2001 and has been a certified fitness coach with the National Academy of Sports Medicine since 2002.