Chances are, if you haven't experienced tight traps, you've at least heard of them. Stress and tension often develop in these muscles. They also become tight from sitting with poor posture for extended periods of time.
Your trapezius muscle has three functional regions: upper, middle and lower. The upper trap region, which supports the weight of your arm, is typically the portion of your trapezius muscle that becomes tight and needs to be relaxed. Your trapezius muscle can become tight for a number of reasons, such as a muscular imbalance between your body's left and right sides or front and back sides, an acute injury or muscle strain you experienced, or stress. Tight traps can also cause neck pain.
Instrument-Assisted Soft-Tissue Mobilization
Instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization — IASTM — is a soft-tissue treatment technique that uses bevel-edged tools or instruments to find and treat your scar tissue, fascial restrictions and fibrotic adhesions. All of these inhibit your normal muscle function, decrease your range of motion and cause you to experience tightness or pain.
An IASTM treatment typically is performed by a licensed health care provider, such as a chiropractor or physical therapist. According to a September 2016 article published by The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, more research is needed to support the effectiveness of IASTM. However, there is some evidence that suggests this technique increases joint range of motion in the short term.
Stretching a Tight Trapezius
Trapezius muscle exercises, such as gentle stretching, are another effective method of reducing your upper muscle tightness; and you can perform the stretches at home without the direct supervision of a health care professional. To stretch your upper trapezius muscle, sit on a chair and turn your head 45 degrees to the right. Gently lower your left ear toward your left shoulder until you feel a light stretch on the right side of your neck and right upper shoulder.
To enhance the stretch, use your left hand to reach over your head and apply gentle pressure on your right temple. After you've held the stretch for 30 seconds, reverse the directions and stretch your left upper trapezius. Perform this stretch two to three times per day.
Heat it Up
Try heat therapy for trapezius muscle pain relief. Heat therapy involves the application of heat — either moist or dry — to your body to reduce pain and relax tight muscles. There are many kinds of heat therapy, including hydrocollator packs, hot water and ultrasound. Therapeutically, heat therapy helps increase blood flow to your tissues, decrease joint stiffness and reduce muscle spasms.
When using heat therapy to treat your tight upper trapezius, use a sufficient barrier between the heat source and your skin so that you avoid being burned.
See a Physical Therapist
If you continually experience tight traps or if your tightness is interfering with you ability to do everyday tasks, see a physical therapist. A PT can help diagnose the underlying cause of your tight trapezius and prescribe specific exercises to treat your condition. In addition, a PT can help improve your posture or address other ergonomic contributors to your tightness.