The upper traps is the kite shaped muscle across the upper back and neck, and seem to be one of the most over used muscles we have, along with the Levator Scapula.  They’re one of the muscles that most people love to have massaged.  They are technically the upper fibres of the trapezius muscle that extends from the back of the head, running down the spine to the base of the thoracic spine, and out to the top of the shoulders.  The trapezius muscle helps to stabilise the shoudlers as well as helping mobility as we move the arm around.

They can get tight and short, so the shoulders sit higher than might be called neutral.  This is partly because one of our responses to a stimulus (like a firework unexpectedly going off) is to try to curl up into the foetal position, where the knees come up towards the chest and the shoulders come up towards the ears so we protect the softer parts (which the upper traps help with).  We rarely actually bring our knees up to our chests, but our shoulders do hunch up.  They can get very used to being in this position, and they ache a bit when we let the shoulders hang down in their normal position, so we hold them up a bit higher and this continues until it can almost seem as if we end up wearing our shoulders attached to our ears!

To get the muslces to lengthen again is a fairly common sense stretch, which I’ve detailed below, but with a couple of pointers to try to minimise short cuts and “cheats” we can find to make it easier.  Please note that if this causes sharp, painful sensations in the neck, shoulder or arm, that is the body telling you somethings wrong, so please stop and get someone to investigate what is going on.  A gentle stretch that eases is ok.

Equipment

None necessary

Steps

  1. Choose which shoulder you want to do first.
  2. Stabilise this shoulder by either holding it with the other hand, or hold the chair you’re sitting on, or hold a weight in that hand (like a shopping bag).  If you don’t and you are really tight the shoulder will just come with your head as you take it to the side.
  3. Keeping your face pointing forwards, take the opposite ear towards the other shoulder in a side bend of the neck.   If this creates a sharp pain then stop the stretch.
  4. Spend approximately 30 seconds in this position, trying to allow the side of the neck that is being stretched to soften and lengthen.
  5. Ease off the stabilisation of the shoulder and bring your head back to neutral, using your hand to help if necessary.
  6. Repeat on the other side.

NB. These stretches are not meant to create additional pain in your neck, or an increasing level of discomfort.  If you experience this then please stop the stretch and seek advice.

Adaptations

A – If your neck is comfortable in the position of Step 3 above, and you are not using the other hand to stabilise the shoulder being stretched, then you can reach up and place your palm on the head and use the weight of your arm to add an additional stretch

B – If your neck is comfortable in the side stretch, you can add in a slight rotation after step 4 above.  From the extreme side position then slowly rotate your head back towards the shoulder that is being stretched.  You do not need to turn very far, think about the nose moving approximately 2-3 cms.  This rotation adds in the anterior fibres of the Upper trapezius muscles.  Hold it again for approximately 30 seconds.

Why do I say to hold the static stretch for 30 seconds?  I put it like this: the first 10 seconds it feels like the muscles are shocked into wondering what this position is.  Then the next 10 seconds they start to relax into the position, and the final 10 seconds they might also be able to move a bit deeper into the movement, and accept that this is possible.

People often do this naturally to release some of the neck tension they can hold.  Yep, it’s a perfectly normal motion, I’m just suggesting that it might be done in a more considered way.

Thanks for reading this my lovely Interonauts.

Tim