Neck Pain, Headaches, Tight Traps: mobility and strength

I had someone ask the question: "How do you strengthen traps that are always tight?" The specific issue for this lovely gal comes from sitting at a computer for a large portion of the day, then later at the gym, lifting weights above her head. This results in complaints of severe headache, aching shoulders and a tired neck.

I think most of us can understand this one. Regardless of our job - whether we sit at a desk or work for a landscaping company, a large portion of the population has a phone or some sort of handheld device. We are all victims of poor posture - a gradual rounding of our shoulders, forward lengthening of the neck, and increased weight of the head as it gradually drifts further and further forward.

Many of us also hold stress or tension in our upper shoulders (aka Upper Trapezius aka Traps) which can also trigger burning, aching pain and fatigue in the neck, or result in headaches.

So, how do we address all of this?

First, I'd like to clarify that a tight muscle causing pain is not necessarily a weak one that needs to be strengthened. Often, it craves movement and length. In return, support is needed from surrounding structures. A tight muscle is an overactive muscle as it is constantly in a shortened or contracted state.

Second, we always want to avoid building strength on top of dysfunction. If a muscle is not functioning top notch, we don't want to strengthen it in that state. Again, surrounding structures may need to offer support. In this case, strengthening may be appropriate.

Here are some things you can do:

Start by stretching your upper trapezius muscles. Try 3 reps on each side, hold for 20 seconds each.

Try a self release of the suboccipital muscles (muscles at the base of your noggin). Lay on the floor instead of a soft surface.

Ribcage mobility to facilitate deep breathing. Try 5 effortful reaches each side.

Breathing exercises to promote ribcage expansion. It's common to under-utilize the diaphragm muscle and lung capacity when we have tight traps and neck muscles. April breathing is when we only utilize the top portion of our lungs instead of inhaling and exhaling fully. This can add tension and strain to the neck and shoulders. Keep the shoulder/chest quiet, expand the lower ribcage.

Core exercises to promote core engagement with overhead lifting, instead of allowing the neck and shoulder muscles to take over. Breathe! Try 5 reps per side, hold each for 5-10 seconds.

Correcting forward head posture. Tuck the chin, lengthen through the back of the neck. Set a reminder on your phone every half hour or so for a posture check!

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