Whether you’re spending long hours sitting in front of a computer, carrying a heavy bag on one shoulder, or dealing with the stresses of daily life, your trapezius muscles are likely to become tight and painful, which can further create traps and neck pain, and poor posture.
But don’t worry. In this article, we’ll share some effective trapezius stretches and tips to help you loosen up those tight traps, alleviate your neck and trap pain, and improve your upper body posture.
What is the Trapezius Muscle?
Before we dive into the stretches, let’s first take a closer look at the trapezius muscle. The trapezius, also known as the “traps,” is a large, triangular muscle that runs from the base of your skull to your mid-back and across your shoulders. It is divided into three main parts: the upper, middle, and lower traps.
It’s responsible for various movements, including shoulder elevation, depression, retraction, and rotation. The trapezius is divided into the upper, middle, and lower parts.
The upper trapezius, located at the top of the muscle, is often the tensest and tight part of the trapezius, commonly associated with tension headaches and neck pain. The middle trapezius runs along the middle, responsible for scapular (shoulder blade) retraction and stability. And the lower trapezius, as the name says, located at the bottom, helps with scapular depression and upward rotation.
Okay, now we know more about the trapezius muscle and its function, let’s move on to the common causes of tight traps.
Common Causes of Tight Trapezius Muscles
Many factors can contribute to tight and tense trapezius muscles. The following are the most common causes:
- If you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk or looking down at your phone, you may put extra strain on your mid to upper back and neck muscles, including the trapezius. And in the long term, this can increase your spinal curvature, leading to tight muscles and bad posture.
- Carrying a heavy bag on one shoulder or playing a sport involving many overhead movements (repetitive motions) can also contribute to tight trapezius muscles.
- People going through a lot of stress and tension can experience elevated shoulders due to tightening upper trap muscles and a lack of lower trap strength.
Why I’ve shared the common causes of tight trap muscles? Because you can (and should!) be proactive to prevent them from happening in the first place.
7 Trapezius Stretches to Loosen Tight Muscles
Here’re the 7 best stretches to loosen your tight trapezius.
1. Seated Neck Release
The seated neck release or ear-to-shoulder stretch targets the upper trapezius muscles and helps relieve tension in your upper traps and neck, and may also improve the range of motion of your neck.
How to do it:
- Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground and your back straight.
- Place your right hand on the top of your head and gently pull your head towards your right shoulder to feel the stretch on your left shoulder. Don’t pull too hard.
- Maintain normal breathing throughout the move.
- Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds, then switch sides.
Try to down the same side shoulder to increase its effectiveness. It’s the best and simple upper trapezius stretch you can do to loosen the trapezius muscle.
2. Child’s Pose
It’s a relaxing yoga pose (also known as Balasana) that stretches the entire back, especially the lower trapezius. This pose can also help calm your mind and reduce stress which further helps with tense traps.
How to do it:
- Start on your hands and knees on the mat, with your wrists underneath your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- Sit back on your heels and reach your arms forward, keeping your palms facing down and stretching the back muscles.
- Lower your forehead to the ground and relax your entire body.
- Hold the pose for 30-60 seconds.
Try fully extending your arms in the front and feeling the stretch on your back and traps. Focus on breathing deeply.
3. Band-Assisted Trap Stretch
The resistance band-assisted trap stretch can greatly deepen the stretch in your middle and lower trapezius muscles.
How to do it:
- To begin, attach a resistance band slightly above your head. Sand with your feet slightly apart and hold the band with your hands.
- Extend your arms toward the bar and keep your elbows straight.
- Keeping your body straight, lean your body back to get a nice stretch in your mid and low traps.
- Hold this position for 20-30 seconds.
You can slightly roll your shoulders forward to maximize the trap activation.
4. Shoulder Rolls
Shoulder rolls are a simple and effective exercise to improve shoulder mobility and release the tension on your neck, shoulder, and trapezius religion.
How to do it:
- Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms at your sides.
- Lift your shoulders towards your ears, then roll them back and down in a circular motion.
- Come back to the starting position and repeat for 10-15 reps.
Engage your upper, middle, and lower traps throughout the exercise.
5. Cat-Cow Stretch
This yoga pose helps increase your spine mobility and activates your back muscles, including the trapezius, leading to a better posture.
How to do it:
- Start on your hands and knees on the floor, with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- Inhale and arch your back, bringing your head and tailbone up towards the ceiling (cow pose).
- Exhale and round your back, bringing your chin towards your chest and tucking your tailbone under (cat pose).
- Do this cat and cow movement for 10-15 reps.
Make sure to do this exercise slowly and maintain a proper breathing pattern.
6. Wide-Legged Forward Bend
Here’s another yoga pose that stretches the entire back as well as the hamstrings and glutes — wide-legged forward bend. It can improve your flexibility and relieve tension in the entire back and neck, including the traps.
How to do it:
- Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, and turn your toes slightly out.
- Keeping your back flat, bend forward from your hips, bringing your hands down towards the floor.
- Lower your upper body as much as possible without rounding your lower back.
- Maintain normal breathing and hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds.
Keep your knees slightly bent and your back straight. Holding onto your ankles or the floor may help with support.
7. Farmer’s Carry Hold
Although the farmer’s carry is an upper trap strengthing exercise but holding this position can help get a superior stretch on your upper trapezius muscle. It can also improve your posture, prevent injuries, and enhance your upper body strength.
How to do it:
- Stand with a heavy weight in each hand, such as dumbbells, kettlebells, or a trap bar.
- Keep your core tight, chest up, and shoulder blades back.
- Now instead of walking, you’ll hold this standing position for 30 seconds to a minute. If you can hold more than that, increase the weight.
Keep your shoulder blades depressed and retracted (i.e., keeping the shoulders down and back).
How to Loosen Your Trapezius Aside From Stretching
While stretching is an effective way to loosen tight muscles, other techniques can also help. These include:
- Get Massage: Getting a massage can help release tension and tightness in your traps. You can book a professional massage or use a foam roller or massage ball to do it yourself. 
- Heat Therapy: Applying heat to your trap can help relax them and relieve pain. You can use a heating pad or take a warm bath or shower.
- Posture Correction: Poor posture often leads to tight trapezius, so it’s important to be mindful of your posture throughout the day. Make sure to sit properly, keeping your spine and neck neutral.
- Strengthening Exercises: Strengthening the trap and other upper body muscles can help relieve tension and reduce the likelihood of tightness. Exercises like rows and pull-ups can be helpful.
- Lifestyle Changes: Stress, lack of sleep, and poor diet can also contribute to muscle tension. So, be mindful of reducing stress, getting more sleep, and eating a healthy diet to prevent and alleviate tight muscles.
Tips for Safe and Effective Trapezius Stretching
Stretching is an excellent way to loosen your trapezius muscles, but it’s important to keep in mind the following things do it safely and effectively.
- Warm-up First: Whether you’re going to do heavy lifting or just follow a stretching routine, it’s important to warm up your muscles with some dynamic stretching exercises (like arm circle, standing toe touches, etc.) to minimize the risk of injury.
- Start Slow: Begin with gentle stretches (like can and cow) and gradually switch to the harder ones as your muscles become more flexible. Don’t push yourself too hard or force yourself into a position that causes trapezius pain or discomfort.
- Breathe Deeply: Focus on breathing deeply (especially during the relaxing poses) and exhaling as you stretch to help release tension and properly relax your muscles.
- Stretch for Optimal Period: Hold each stretch for at least 20 to 30 seconds to allow the muscle fibers to lengthen and relax fully.
- Slide the Shoulder Blades Forward: When you stretch your lower and middle trapezius, try to slightly roll/slide your shoulder blades (from your rib cage) toward the front side to increase the stretch.
- Stretch Both Sides Evenly: Use your common sense to stretch both sides evenly to maintain balance and prevent muscle imbalances.
- Don’t Overdo It: In the end, you should listen to your body and not overdo it. Remember, rest is also crucial to optimal muscle recovery and getting the desired result. If you feel pain or discomfort, stop and rest or modify the stretch.
So… There we have it: The best trapezius stretches. Incorporate these stretches into your routine and follow the tips to loosen and relax all three heads of your trapezius, which will further improve your flexibility, reduced tension, and increase comfort.
Remember to always listen to your body and adjust the stretches as needed to avoid injury.
FAQs About Trapezius Stretches
How often should I do trapezius stretches?
You can perform trapezius stretches once a day or 4-5 times a week, depending on your needs and preferences.
Can trapezius stretch help with neck pain or tension headaches?
Yes, trapezius stretches loosen the tight muscles and can help relieve neck pain and headaches by reducing stress on the neck and shoulders.
Is it normal to feel discomfort when doing trapezius stretches?
When stretching, mild discomfort or tension may be normal, especially if your trap muscles are particularly tight. But, if you experience sharp or intense pain, stop stretching and consult a healthcare professional or physical therapist.
Are there any stretches to avoid if I have a history of neck or shoulder injuries?
If you have a history of neck or shoulder injuries, it’s best to avoid stretches that involve sudden or forceful movements, such as neck rolls or overhead shoulder stretches.
However, I highly recommend you consult with a doctor before starting any stretching or exercise routine.
When is the best time to do trapezius stretches: before or after exercise?
The trapezius stretches can be done before or after an exercise. Stretching before exercise can help warm up the muscles and prevent injury while stretching after exercise helps cool down the muscles and aid in recovery.
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