Neck pain can be the result of tight trapezius muscles, and the trapezius may spasm due to neck pain. The trapezius musculature is is an inverted triangle which starts at the base of the skull, spreads over the shoulders and down to the mid back. These muscles are highly susceptible to overuse. They are the muscles that also often carry the brunt of your stress. Stretching exercises, massage, and trigger point therapy for your neck and traps can help eliminate the spasms and tightness that trigger pain.
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The trapezius muscles help with the function of neck rotation, side bending and extension. Tightness in the muscles can decrease the range of motion of the neck. The decrease in motion can negatively effect the mobility of the cervical joints. Limited range of motion creates an increase in soft tissue tightness, with an ensuing pain-spasm cycle which can be difficult to break.
Stretching is an effective way to alleviate muscle tension in the neck and trapezius. It is important that these stretches be done correctly to avoid further neck irritation. Putting your hand behind your back, stabilizing the shoulder. stretch your upper traps by leaning your head away toward your opposite shoulder. To increase this stretch, reach over the top of your head with your opposite arm and assist the stretch with a gentle pull. With your head in the side tilt position, keeping your face straight ahead, tilt your head forward to stretch the mid and lower trapezius.
Massage is beneficial for relaxation of tissue as well as an increase in blood flow. To effectively massage your traps yourself, begin by leaning your head away from the side that you will be working on creating a slight stretch. Put your fingertips together and place them on your shoulder, next to your neck, facing behind you. Create a downward pressure and slide your fingers away from your neck toward the outside of your shoulder. To massage your mid and lower traps reach over your back with your fingertips pointing downward, along the edge of the spine. Slowly pull up toward the shoulders. Massage the upper traps at the neck by placing a hand on each side of your neck, fingers facing each other. Creating a gentle pressure, slide your hands down toward your shoulders.
Trigger points are areas that can be directly stimulated, creating a mechanical relaxation of the muscle tissue. Using a tennis ball, or similar object, apply pressure to the top of each shoulder near your neck. By lying on your back with the tennis ball underneath you, you may apply pressure using your body weight to the pair of trigger points located between the shoulder blade and the spine. Move the ball down the back and closer to the spine, to the tip of the trapezius triangle, for the last pair of trigger points. When applying pressure, make sure to stay to the side of the spine itself. You may use pain as an indicator of proper location as trigger points are often tender.
Ice and heat are both methods which can be used for decreasing tightness and pain in the area of the neck and traps. Ice can be used at any time as it constricts the blood vessels creating a reduction in swelling or inflammation. It effectively decreases spasm, helping to break the pain-spasm cycle that can occur. After exercise or activity, ice helps to decrease irritation. Heat should be avoided for the first 24 to 48 hours if an actual injury has occurred, as it opens the blood vessels and increases blood flow. This can increase swelling and irritation, hindering the healing process. Heat application before exercise or activity allows for relaxation and warming of the muscles, allowing for a good stretch. Moist heat penetrates more deeply than dry heat, so is often the preferred method of heat application.