Gnarly headaches, jaw pain, arm numbness, shooting pain to multiple areas, and poor neck posture can be pinpointed to this one muscle! Let's dive in...
- Neck stress, tension and pain
- Forward head posture
- Dowager's Hump
- Headache & migraines - Eye fatigue - Arm numbness and tingling - Radiating pain down the arm
- Reduced shoulder range of motion
Anatomy of The Trapezius
The trapezius is shaped like a kite on the middle and upper back, starting from the base of the skull, fanning outward to the ridges of the scapula and traveling south to the tip of the 12th thoracic vertebrae.
It's function is to support the head in daily posture, elevate the scapula and aid in retraction of the scapula (squeeze the shoulder blades together).
Clinically, the upper trapezius harbors trigger points that culminate as headache pain and can also give rise to symptoms that pervade the neck, shoulders and arms, including numbness and tingling.
The blue arrows on the above illustration are indicating the muscle fiber alignment. The trapezius is a unique muscles that possesses fibers that start almost completely vertically positioned and as you travel down the muscle to the middle back, those fibers shift to oblique, horizontal, oblique and almost vertical once again.
Functional Anatomy of the Trapezius
Commonly, with our typical head posture throughout the day, we have a forward head alignment. For every 1" the head is positioned forward of your spine, this increases the demand placed upon your musculature by 10%. Thus, if your head is sitting 3" forward of your spine, this would equal a 30% increased demand on your neck and related muscles. Progressively, over the course of time, if left unaddressed and imbalanced, this creates hypertonicity and facilitation in the upper trapezius muscle fibers. This creates great inefficiencies in your performance and daily energy and, ultimately, your restricts your health, happiness and vitality.
Hypertonicity refers to the muscle fibers becoming shorter and tighter in nature, and facilitation refers to the easier and faster recruitment of these parts of the muscle. Essentially, this means that even though there could be several muscles involved in supporting the weight of your head, due to this faulty alignment, your body has become programmed to dominantly recruit the upper trapezius which perpetuates the cycle of imbalance.
For the same reason, as the upper trapezius becomes more dominant, the middle and lower trapezius become less dominant. Due to the alignment of your head and your rounded shoulders, the middle and lower trapezius are placed in a stretched position, creating hypotonicity (long-weak) and although it feels 'tight' to patients when they describe it to me, in actual fact, the muscle is in a state of tautness.
To complement this week's focus on stretching the upper trapezius, I highly recommend at minimum, to also learn how to strengthen your middle and lower trapezius using the prone cobra exercise. To find out more visit: My secret weapon to avoid pain and arm numbness
Restoring Balance in 5-Steps
Move - increase your body temperature and blood flow to all your muscles.
Massage- using a partner, lacrosse ball or foam roller to agitate the muscles.
Mobilize - move the joints in their full range of motion.
STRETCH - focus on lengthening the short-tight (hypertonic) muscles.
Strengthen - focus on strengthening the (hypotonic) long-weak muscles.
This week I shared one of the simplest and fastest way to stretch your upper trapezius.
My prescription is to perform this stretch often to help pay down your postural debt due to overuse of some muscles and inactivation of others. Remember intensity is the shortcut to results. In this case, the intensity comes from the frequency of repetitions and intensity of the stretch throughout your day.
I suggest the following: MAJOR SYMPTOMS - Stretch 3+ times per day.
MINOR SYMPTOMS - Stretch daily.
NO SYMPTOMS - Stretch at least 3 times per week.
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Yours In Muscle Health,
Jason Barlow, RMT
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