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Experiencing tight sore shoulders, neck and upper back are quite common. Working at a computer, holding your head in one position for length periods of time, hunching over your desk or experiencing prolonged stress can all contribute to pain in the shoulders and upper back. The trapezius muscle is at work every time you elevate your shoulders or turn your head and neck to perform activities, such as driving or playing tennis.
Location of the Trapezius Muscles
The trapezius ("traps") is a large triangle-shaped muscle that attaches to the base of the skull, expands across the back of the neck and upper shoulders and extends down your back to about waist level. Though the trapezius is just one muscle, the upper, middle and lower portions are responsible for different motions. The upper traps elevate the scapula and shoulders in a shrugging motion and upward rotation, while the lower traps are responsible for scapular depression. The mid-traps along with the rhomboids move the scapula backward in retraction and assist in maintaining proper posture.
Stress Causes Trapezius Pain
Stress is one of the largest contributors to pain in the upper trapezius muscle, which may be accompanied by pain in the neck, shoulders and headaches. Trap pain from stress is a deep, throbbing ache. After sitting in a slumped position with your shoulders rounded, you may also feel a burning sensation between your shoulder blades. Stress causes us to hunch in a protective posture, keeping the traps in a contracted position with the shoulders elevated toward the ears. Tune into the position of your shoulders and consciously relax your shoulders.
Poor Posture and Sore Trapezius
Bad posture with a forward head posture is a common affliction affecting a large percentage of the population of industrialized nations. We sit hunched over laptops and desktop computers, at desks and over steering wheels for hours per day during work commutes. This posture results in a rounded upper back and forward head posture (kyphosis), which contracts and shortens the chest muscles and overstretches the muscles of the upper back.
Activities of Daily Living Can Cause Trap Pain
Carrying heavy shoulder bags on one shoulder causes the trap to engage and the shoulder to elevate to hold the weight of the bag. Holding a telephone between your shoulder and ear elevates and holds the trapezius in a contracted position. Women with large, heavy breasts may experience upper trapezius pain from bra straps that are too tight. Nursing a baby or sleeping on your stomach can also contribute to pain in the upper trapezius muscles.
Relieve Trapezius Pain
To relieve soreness and pain in the trapezius muscles, it is important to stretch and massage muscles of the upper chest and neck. Exercises to strengthen the weak muscles of the mid back to correct posture should follow. Switch shoulders frequently if carrying shoulder bag-style purses or laptop cases. If you need your hands while talking on the phone, invest in a headset. If you notice that your bra straps are creating ridges in your shoulders, visit a high-end lingerie shop to get measured and properly fitted for a bra.
Alleviate Trigger Spots
The trapezius muscles may develop knots that are tender to the touch (trigger points). Lying on a tennis ball to apply pressure to the tender spots is a trick of the trade therapists often advise clients to use. Though a relaxing professional massage is ideal to provide circulation to sore muscles, self-massage is a great option. Pressing on your tender areas for 10 to 15 seconds can help alleviate the muscle and ease the pain from its strain. It can be difficult to reach the sore spots between your shoulder blades. An excellent tool to assist in alleviating trigger points is a Thera Cane (see link in References).