In today’s post, I’m going to show you exactly how to fix trapezius pain and how to prevent it from coming back.
I’ll explain (in simple terms) how this pain develops and demonstrate stretches and exercises to help you.
As always, you’ll find a complete video guide in this post as well. Just scroll down until the end.
Trapezius pain can radiate all the way down to the mid-back.
This is a common symptom. I’ll be discussing how to address this as well by including release tutorials for muscles located next to the trapezius and do similar functions.
I tried to make this guide as complete and thorough as possible. As always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave me a comment!
Trapezius Muscle Location And Functions
I want to quickly explain the functions of the trapezius muscle because this will help you better release it later on (1).
When you know how the muscle looks and where it’s locations you can target it better.
The Trapezius Muscle 3 Parts
Upper trapezius: Primary functions are cervical extension, lateral flexion, rotation, and scapular elevation (what would look like is elevating your shoulder up towards your ear.
Middle trapezius: It’s primary function is scapular retraction.
Lower trapezius: Primary function is scapular depression and that’s when you pull your shoulders back and down. A download movement.
Another muscle that will also release is the levator scapulae because it accomplishes many similar functions of the trapezius muscle such as cervical extension, lateral flexion, and ipsilateral rotation.
Why You Keep Getting Trapezius Pain
When you experience trapezius pain (or any muscular pain), please remember that there is always a cause behind it.
The most common causes of trapezius muscle pain are overuse and misuse.
It’s not uncommon to experience trapezius strains or injuries during weight lifting.
Here are the common movement patterns or daily habits that can contribute to trapezius pain (when all combined):
- Typing for long periods of time (2). Especially if the desk height makes you elevate your shoulder to reach the keyboard. Check my video tutorial here on how to sit properly to avoid muscular pain.
- Shrugging one shoulder up to hold the phone between the shoulder and the ear.
- Carrying a backpack or bag on one side.
- Repetitive movements like playing the guitar can tighten the elevated arm side.
- Sitting hunched over
- Pulling the head forward to read small text on the desktop monitor for hours each day (this promoted forward head posture which triggers upper back pain).
Now, I want to share with you simple assessment exercises to figure out if the trapezius is indeed overactive and needs to be released.
Sometimes we can be dealing with referred pain and these exercises will confirm if the pain is coming from a tight overactive trapezius.
Trapezius Pain Release
Full disclosure: this post contains affiliate links. I only mention products I personally use and recommend…and if you purchase from Amazon using my affiliate link, I get a small commission. You won’t pay more!
Step 1: Is The Trapezius Overactive?
The first sign that you’re dealing with overactivity and tightness is having a default rounded shoulder posture.
The Pulling Exercise Test:
Stand with your hands reaching forward. Imagine pulling a band towards you. You can certainly try with the band as well (I demonstrate this exercise in the video at the end).
If, as you pull in, your shoulders start to elevate. This is a sign of an overactive and tight upper trapezius and levator scapulae (we’ll release both of these muscles in a moment).
The Pressing Exercise Test:
Grab very light dumbbells (or two books of the same weight). Press the weight up and notice if you’re arms are falling forward with any shoulder elevation. This is a sign of a tight pectoral muscle, latissimus dorsi as well as weak mid-lower trapezius.
Step 2: Release Trapezius Tightness
One of the best tools to target the upper trapezius is the Theracane.
It’ll help you take control of how much pressure you apply. As you get more comfortable with the handheld tool, you can apply more pressure to release the soft tissue.
The Thera cane website contains tutorials on how to use this amazing tool (3).
Another way to release the trapezius is simply by using the massage ball against the wall. The massage ball is also very effective as you can easily control it.
You can certainly use the massage ball to release the trapezius muscle against the wall. Before you do that, start by releasing the pectoralis muscles.
Latissimus Dorsi Release
If during the pressing test your arms fell forward, then include the latissimus dorsi release as well.
Deep tissue release summary:
- Theracane (upper trapezius)
- Massage ball (Upper, middle, and lower trapezius), Levator scapulae.
- Pectoralis muscles
- Latissimus dorsi
Step 3: Trapezius Stretches
If you’re currently experiencing trapezius muscle spasms, I highly recommend you skip the stretches and just focus on releasing the muscle for 1-2 days.
Stretching can trigger more spasms if the muscle is very sensitive already. Personally, stretching while experiencing pain never worked for me.
I recommend you want until the pain gets better before stretching.
Upper Trapezius Stretch
- Place your arm behind your back. You’ll feel a nice gentle stretch right away.
- Bend your head to the side to elongate the upper trapezius.
- Place your hand on the side of the head to deepen the stretch.
Levator Scapulae Stretch
- Place your arm behind your back.
- Bend your head to the side and look down. (Side corner)
- Place your hand towards the back (not the side this time) and pull your head down.
- Keep your shoulder down (don’t shrug the shoulder).
- Bend your arm against the wall at a 90-degree angle.
- Move a step forward to elongate the pectorals.
Latissimus dorsi stretch
You can do this stretch using a stability ball or a chair.
- Rest your arm on the stability ball.
- Keep your back straight.
- Let your chest fall as you deepen the stretch.
- You can externally rotate your arm for a deeper stretch. Or, keep your palm facing down for an easier stretch.
- Pectorals stretch
- Latissimus dorsi stretch
- Upper trapezius stretch
- Levator scapulae
Step 3: Strengthening Exercises
I previously released many shoulder strengthening exercises that are specific to strengthening the rotator cuff, middle, and lower trapezius.
I’ll link them all below. I do want to give you a brief list of my top favorite exercises.
6 Trapezius Strengthening Exercises
Trapezius Pain Relief Video Tutorial
I hope this was helpful. Below are a few other video posts you should check out if you’re looking to fix upper back pain and restoring proper posture.
- How to sit properly without triggering pain
- Neck pain release (levator scapulae)
- Latissimus dorsi release
- Mid-back strengthening exercises
- 5 exercises to fix rounded shoulders with dumbbells
- Resistance band shoulders strengthening exercises
- 6 upper back pain resistance exercises
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