Updated: Jan 24
I've been a massage therapist for nearly 20-years and I've had the good fortune of traveling the world to study with some of the best in their fields including Paul St. John and Paul Chek. It was these two mentors that truly shifted the way I looked at the body and discovered the delicacy of muscle length-tension relationships. Basically, if a muscle is too tight, figure out quickly what is relatively weak and restore some balance as quickly as possible to prevent long-term degeneration and chronic pain.
Commonly, if you visit your doctor with any kind of musculo-skeletal pain, you are taught that if the neck hurts, for example, then it must also be the origin of your pain and they'll prescribe you with some drugs to find temporary relief.
My philosophy has always been - find the root cause, get after it and temporarily use what you can to alleviate your pain or disease. Without getting to the origin of your pain, it may not be long until you experience the same pain and often it can be more significant the next time around.
This week, I wanted to explore my holistic philosophy on treating muscular pain with the focus upon neck pain and a great self-massage trick you can start using today!
Common Symptoms Associated with the Trapezius Muscle - Neck stress, tension and pain
- Forward head posture
- Dowager's Hhmp
- Headache & migraines - Eye fatigue - Arm numbness and tingling - Radiating pain down the arm
- Reduced shoulder range of motion
Anatomy of the Trapezius
I describe to my patients that the trapezius muscle is the shape and size of a small kite. It originates from the base of your skull, spreads to the outer part of your shoulders and ends at the base of your middle back. It's actions are to help stabilize the head in an upright position, elevate and retract the shoulder blade and abduct the arm. The fascinating characteristic of this muscle is its fibre arrangement.
At its tip near the attachment with the skull, its fibres are almost vertical, than as you travel to the middle part of the trapezius its fibres become horizontal before transitioning once again to an oblique and vertical alignment at its base in the middle back.
This is an important lesson to remember as you continue to read this article and understand how to tackle the origin of your neck pain!
Before I plunge deeper into the physical attributes of neck pain I wanted to take a brief diversion into understanding the psycho-somatic influences that may be causing your neck pain.
Do you ever say 'he/she is a pain in my neck'? Coincidentally, do you suffer with chronic neck pain or headaches? If so, you may be able to solve your pain immediately by learning to observe your mind before it declares this poor-choice-of-an-affirmation. If you can catch yourself and instead ask 'what is this person teaching me? What lesson am I supposed to learn so I can view this person as beneficial for my personal growth and development?'
It's tricky but I can guarantee you this... if you keep doing as you've always done, you will continue to get what you've always gotten!
Balance Your Kite
Imagine trying to fly a kite on a windy day but your kite is not holding its alignment. Already you know the outcome - its going to fly left or right aggressively, possibly tailspin and sure enough going to crash to the ground. On the other hand, if the kite is lengthened and holding its form and alignment, your chances of a successful flight significantly increase!
Its the same application with your own personal kite of your trapezius muscle. This is the #1 most frequently massaged muscle in my clinic and that the majority of patients complain about when it comes to headaches and neck pain.
Remember with every muscle in your body that is short-tight (too strong) there is another muscle that is long-weak (too weak). The intriguing point with the trapezius muscle, is that often times, the upper trapezius (above the shoulder blades) is short-tight and the middle and lower trapezius is long-weak.
Any short-tight muscle wants to be stretched more than strengthened.
Any long-weak muscle wants to be strengthened more than stretched.
This program should be followed until pain subsides and a healthy balance is restored.
Restoring Balance in 5-Steps
Although you may be experiencing pain in the posterior part of your neck, the reason for this may be more to do with a state known as hypoxia, especially if you've not experienced any trauma to the neck such as whiplash.
What this means is that the muscles between the shoulder blades - middle and lower trapezius, rhomboids and serratus posterior superior - are being overly stretched, which in turn stretches your blood vessels and therefore reduces the rate of flow of oxygenated blood to this part of your body. The result :- pain signals are created by your brain to get you to move and do something to alleviate the pain. Commonly, we massage it, rub on some pain relieving gel or apply some heat. All of which, temporarily, offer relief because they all serve the purpose of redirecting blood flow and oxygenate the muscle that was being strangled of oxygen.
Move - increase your body temperature and blood flow to all your muscles.
Massage - using a lacrosse ball or foam roller to agitate the muscles. Follow my instructional video below for a focused self-massage trick for the trapezius.
Mobilize - move the joints in their full range of motion.
Stretch - focus on lengthening the short-tight muscles. The #1 muscle typically creating this imbalance I reviewed 2-weeks ago in my blog post If you've had shoulder pain, you need this trick - head over there (pardon the pun) and discover how to stretch this shortened-tightened muscle.
Corrective Exercise - focus on strengthening the long-weak muscles. Visit my previous blog post and discover my #1 choice of exercise to realign your neck and shoulders - My Secret Weapon to Avoid Pain and Arm Numbness.
Any questions, you can reach me at my clinic by phone: 403 589 4645 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please help me on my mission to relieve stress, tension and pain.
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Yours In Muscle Health, Jason Barlow, RMT