The trapezius is the broad, diamond shaped muscle that covers the entirety of your upper back. Trapezius tension can be quite intense as it is responsible for some portion of the incredible tension most of us carry because we tend to slouch, stare at devices and sit all day.
The trapezius is one of the most superficial (closest to the surface) muscles of your upper back. It connects at the base of your skull, fans out to the shoulder blades and last 1/3 of your clavicles (collar bones), before ending at the bottom of your ribcage. The muscle fibers within the trapezius run at 3 different angles, which gives rise to the upper, middle and lower fibers, all of which are responsible for different movements. Motions that the trapezius is responsible for include extension of the head and neck, tilting your head from side to side (lateral flexion), shrugging your shoulders (scapular elevation), pulling the scapula together (scapular retraction), scapular depression and upward rotation of the scapula.
The trapezius is involved in movements of the neck, shoulders and upper back – it’s no wonder it is so tension filled in most of us! The trapezius is also really good at picking up the slack of other weaker muscles and taking on more movement responsibilities than it needs to.
So what to do if your shoulders are hiked up to your ears and your upper back is crazy stiff? Here are 5 ways to start reducing trapezius tension now:
- Self-Massage for Upper Trapezius: If you’re savvy at rolling, either with a foam roller or therapy balls, chances are you’ve probably rolled out your upper back at some time. But the trapezius is in 3D – if you haven’t addressed the tension in the top of it, you’re missing out an important part, especially when it comes to neck and shoulder pain. Check out my video below for the Trapezius Tension Tamer, which is for the upper most portion of the muscle (which also happens to be the most stiff for many people!).
- Better Posture: The trapezius can become over taxed when it constantly has to grip to keep your head from falling off of your neck. An easy way to reduce the tension of the trapezius is to work on improving your posture. What does good posture look like? Here are more tips on better posture, but the basics are this: head directly over shoulders, shoulders over hips, hips over feet, with your feet pointing forward. Less work for the trapezius will help to make it a little less stiff and angry.
- Work on shoulder mobility: When we get stuck in a movement rut of going about our day and paying no mind to how we move, you probably do a few movements for most of the day. Taking your shoulders through their full range of motion can help to rehydrate tissues (like the trapezius) that are dehydrated from lack of use. An easy way to move the shoulders is with an exercise called Shoulder CARS. Check out my video below for the how-to.
- Self-Massage for Middle and Lower Trapezius: The Upper Back Unwind can help to rehydrate and restore the elasticity of the middle and lower fibers of the trapezius. It also helps to massage the deeper tissues and improve spinal flexibility as well.
- Breathe: As much as I have been writing about the trapezius as a shoulder muscle – it is also a breathing muscle. Because it is attached to the back of your ribs – its lack of movement can impact your ability to breathe. Spend a few minutes each day working on taking full and complete breaths, which can help to retrain your nervous system and soft tissues to relax. Mindfulness and relaxation is covered in the Self-Care Startup Guide, which is a great place to start if you’re overwhelmed by self-care and want a guided program to get you started. You can learn more about it here!
So hopefully one (or all!) of these tips will help you to address and relieve the tension of your upper back and neck. Which one are you going to try first? Let me know in the comments below!
- November 11-13: YTU Integrated Embodied Anatomy Training (Tarzana, CA)
- November 26: FREE Yoga Tune Up® Class at Athleta (Pasadena, CA)
- December 17: LA Yoga Expo (more details to follow)
- December 17: FREE Yoga Tune Up® Class at Athleta (Pasadena, CA)
- February 3-5: YTU Integrated Embodied Anatomy Training (Poulsbo, WA)