By Paul Kochoa, PT, DPT, CGFI
A study published in the April issue of Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy brought up a good point about neck pain that I’ve told my patients on many occasions: Neck pain and upper trapezius tightness/spasms are linked to your lower trapezius strength.
The trapezius (trap) muscle is a large trapezoidal-shaped muscle (hence the name) that essentially connects three points: the base of the head, the spine from your neck to your mid back, and your shoulders. It moves the shoulder around and moves the neck. It’s so big, it has three parts. The upper trap comes from the base of your head, then goes out to the top of your shoulder, it’s the most common place to get tight and tense. The middle trap comes from the middle of your back and runs sideways to the outside of your shoulder blade. The lower trap comes from the lower parts of your mid back and then comes up and diagonally connects to the outside of your shoulder blade.
All of them are important with shoulder movement and stability. The study found that people who had neck pain also had weakness in the lower trap. Makes total sense. I’ve told my patients on multiple occasions that the upper trap is always on, gets overworked, tense and painful, and the lower and mid traps get weak with poor posture. If you can strengthen the mid and lower traps, you can take a lot of work away from the upper traps. Unfortunately, our industrialized society of today places us in certain postures that limit the need for the lower trap and mid trap to work.
It’s all linked to posture. Think about it. You’re sitting down, reading this article on your computer, with your back slouched and your shoulders rounded forward. This sets up a shortened upper trap, and stretched out mid and lower traps. Stretched out muscles get weak, and shortened muscles get tight. Reversing this situation is step one. Think about turning off that upper trap and turning on your lower traps. Make the weak muscles work and the tight muscles relax.
Work on getting your shoulder blades down and back. In a previous post, Upper Crossed Syndrome, I mentioned an exercise that does just that, the Da Vinci Pose. Breaking bad posture habits can do wonders for your neck pain. Start there, and if you have any questions, consult your friendly neighborhood physiotherapist.