Tips & Techniques

Understanding Your Traps

Denise Smith 
May 25, 2024
Understanding Your Traps

Do you feel like you have a knot in the back of your shoulder or pain in your neck?  It might be because of a tight trap muscle.  Read on to find out how to relieve pain in this area.

What are the trap muscles, exactly, and what function do they serve in our body?

The trap muscle is only one muscle but it is made up of 3 sections: an upper, middle, and lower portion.  The main goal of the trap muscle is to stabilize and move the shoulder blade but it also helps with maintaining posture, protecting the neck, and lifting the arms.  The upper portion (or fibers) help raise and rotate the shoulder blade upwards.  The middle portion brings the shoulder blade toward the spine (retraction) and the lower portion helps lower and upwardly rotate the shoulder blade.  It is named because it is shaped like a trapezoid, starting at the back of your head and neck, extending across your shoulder, and then angels down to the middle of your back/spine.

What are some reasons for tight and tense trap muscles?

Some of the most common causes for tension in the trapezius

  • Tight neck (cervical spine) 
  • Low back problem
  • Shoulder problem
  • TIght chest muscles
  • Tight hip muscles
  • Poor fitting sports bra
  • Weak core muscles
  • Leg length difference
  • Stress

Can you share the top benefits of stretching your trap muscles?

  • Help the surrounding muscles relax
  • Decreasing tension to the trap
  • Prevent headache
  • Improve posture

What are your favorite trap stretches, and how do you do them? (this includes some important mobility exercises too!)

Are there any yoga poses that can stretch trap muscles?

  • Seated Side Bend with Neck Opener
  • Puppy Pose Variation
  • Thread the Needle
  • Half Cow Face Arms with Neck Opener
  • Eagle Arms
  • Reverse Prayer
  • Dolphin Pose
  • Wide-Legged Forward Fold with Clasp

What are the best ways to add trap stretches to your routine?

  • Do stretching “snacks” throughout the day (every hour stretch for 5 minutes, stretch when you get to a red light, stretch your chest in a doorway whenever you walk through one)
  • Make core strengthening a priority to help strengthen core muscles, allow them to not work so hard (remember - your core is anything between your shoulders and knees, not just your abs)
  • Practice deep breathing to allow the diaphragm to help support the shoulder blade
  • After prolonged computer use, arch backwards over a foam roller.  Or lay flat on a foam roller and perform snow angels (keeping your hand flat on the ground as long as possible)

Any other tips for relieving trap pain?

  • Work on neck mobility (for example, look up when working at the computer for prolonged periods of time)
  • Strengthen the muscles that support the back of the shoulder blade and shoulder (rhomboids, lats, glutes, hamstrings)
  • Use a lacrosse ball in the car when driving to work on the muscles that surround the neck and shoulder
  • Avoid hiking up your shoulders when working on the computer or when it is cold outside
  • Invest in a good massage therapist every 6-8 weeks and commit to lacrosse ball work 2-3 times per week to help manage between sessions
  • Increase your core strength
  • Visit with your physical therapist to have them screen that there is not a problem in your cervical spine, causing continued stress to the trapezius
Meet the Author
Denise Smith graduated from Marquette University in 2002 with a Master’s Degree in Physical Therapy and has been a certified running technique specialist since 2014. She is a consultant for multiple local middle and high schools and instructs courses in Kinesiology at McHenry County College. Denise also travels the country as part of the Pose Method education team with a lecture series on injury prevention and treatment along with the running technique certification course.
You were made to move!