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8 Trapezius Stretches to Loosen Tight Traps

Trapezius stretches help with neck pain.

If you feel tight and stiff in your neck, shoulders, or upper back, your trapezius muscles–or traps–could be at play. The great news is that with some simple stretches, your traps can experience relief from pain and tightness

These 8 trapezius stretches will loosen up your tight trapezius muscles, and help you get relief from nagging trapezius pain. 

Add them in to your daily stretching routine, and you’ll feel better in your: 

- Neck 

- Shoulders

- And back

….as you complete daily activities, such as: 

- Sitting at the computer for work

- Working out at the gym

- Or chilling on the couch to watch some evening TV

 

8 Trapezius Stretches for Ultimate Neck, Shoulder, and Back Pain Relief 

With these 8 trapezius stretches, your traps will have no choice but to loosen up and take a chill pill. So, let's get to it.

 Trapezius Stretches

 

Trap Stretch #1: Shoulder Shrugs

Shoulder shrugs with weights are a common trapezius exercise, but to focus on just the trapezius stretch–rather than muscle bulking–try this motion without any weight, and it will help loosen your trapezius muscles. 

This is a great upper trapezius stretch that you can complete throughout the day as you feel your trap muscles tightening. 

How to Perform This Trap Stretch: 

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, allowing your arms to hang naturally at your sides. 
  1. Pull your shoulders up to your ears in a shrugging motion. 
  1. Pause for a few seconds. 
  1. Release back down. 
  1. For added shoulder mobility and flexibility, you can also roll your shoulders in either direction. This helps loosen them up before other stretches.   

Trap Stretch #2: Upper Trap Head Tilt 

One of those upper trapezius stretches where you’ll feel it instantly, I recommend this trap stretch primarily if you’re feeling pain in your upper traps and neck. 

How to Perform This Trap Stretch: 

  1. Sit down on a yoga mat. 
  1. Bend your neck to the left side–down toward your shoulder. 
  1. Then, lift your left arm over your head, placing your left hand on your opposite ear. This hold will provide added pressure, but it should not cause pain. 
  1. Inhale and exhale, holding this for several seconds before releasing. 
  1. Repeat on the other side. 

Trap Stretch #3: Cactus Arms 

Not only is this one fun to say, but it provides a great upper trapezius stretch. 

How to Perform This Trap Stretch: 

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. 
  1. Raise both arms up above your head. 
  1. Pause for a few seconds. 
  1. Then, lower your arms, bending your elbows to a 90-degree angle–stopping at shoulder height. 
  1. Repeat. 

Trap Stretch #4: Middle Trapezius Stretch 

You can sit or stand for this middle trapezius stretch. 

How to Perform This Trap Stretch: 

  1. Place your arms and hands together in front of your face–with your hands at about face height. 
  1. Now, bring your shoulders forward, allowing your upper back to stretch. 
  1. Hold for a few seconds. 
  1. Return to the starting position, and repeat. 

Trap Stretch #5: Seated Twist 

The seated twist is a lower trap exercise that will also help release tension in your middle back. 

How to Perform This Trap Stretch: 

  1. Sit on a yoga mat with your legs straight out in front of you.
  1. Bend your right knee, and cross it over your left leg, placing your right foot flat on the floor. 
  1. Bring your left elbow to the outside of your right knee, twisting your torso to the right with this motion. 
  1. Hold for 15-30 seconds, and you’ll feel the stretch in your lower trapezius. 
  1. Repeat on the other side. 

Trap Stretch #6: Y Raise 

This is a popular lower trapezius stretch, and it’s simple to perform. 

How to Perform This Trap Stretch: 

  1. Lie on your stomach on a yoga mat. 
  1. Reach your arms out in front of your head and up slightly, forming a “Y” just like in the YMCA song! 
  1. Bring your feet together. 
  1. Squeeze your shoulder blades as you hold this position for a few seconds. 
  1. Release, and repeat. 

Trap Stretch #7: Sideways Child’s Pose 

When you take a normal child’s pose and bend to the side, you engage your traps in a trapezius stretch that provides instant relief from trap pain! 

How to Perform This Trap Stretch: 

  1. On a yoga mat, get into tabletop position, on your hands and knees. 
  1. From here, extend your arms out in front of you, and bring them together–hand over hand. As you do this, allow your buttocks to come back toward your feet. 
  1. Now, bring your hands over to one side of your body, bending your torso as well, and hold for 30 seconds. 
  1. After holding, shimmy your hands on over to the other side, twisting your torso with it, and hold again.  

Trap Stretch #8: Cross Body Shoulder Stretch 

This is a popular trapezius stretch that many people use before a run or before lifting at the gym. 

How to Perform This Trap Stretch: 

  1. Lift your right arm straight out in front of you at chest level, with your palm facing toward the left. 
  1. Bring it across your chest, using your left hand to support the right arm in the stretch by grabbing it near your tricep area. 
  1. Hold this stretch for 15-30 seconds. 
  1. Switch arms, and repeat. 

 

Trapezius Anatomy 

Trap stretches

Now that you know exactly how to stretch out your trapezius muscles for maximum pain relief, let’s get into how these muscles are built. 

The trapezius is a large triangular muscle that begins at either side on the back of your head and neck and then reaches across your shoulders and down to the middle of your back. When put together, these muscles form a trapezoidal diamond shape: hence the name trapezius. 

We can then further divide the trapezius into three parts: upper trapezius, middle trapezius, and lower trapezius. Let’s break that down further. [1] 

Upper Trapezius

Do you know what an upper trapezius muscle is? 

If you just shrugged your shoulders in response to my question, you most likely used your upper trapezius muscles. 

You see, the upper trapezius gets involved any time we shrug our shoulders. 

Your upper traps start at the back of your skull and run out toward the tips of your shoulders. 

Middle Trapezius 

The muscle fibers in the middle trapezius run more parallel–east to west.

If you squeeze your shoulder blades together, you’ll feel these muscles moving in that parallel direction as you retract your shoulder blades and bring them together. This is the role of the middle trapezius. 

Lower Trapezius 

Lift your arm up to the sky. 

You’ll feel your shoulder move down and back. You just engaged your lower trapezius muscle. 

This muscle spans from the lower thoracic spine to the shoulder blades, and it helps you whenever you pull your shoulder blades downward or rotate them. [1] 

Let’s Put It All Together

Put these three muscles together, and you’ve got a powerhouse muscle group that helps you with the following motions: 

Bending Your Neck 

Ever see one of those bobbleheads that people put in their offices or their cars? 

Well, these guys would have the strongest trapezius muscles. Any time you tilt your head, turn it to the side, or bend your neck, your traps help you perform this motion! 

Shoulder Blade Movement

Whether pulling your shoulder blades together during a back workout at the gym, lowering them after a shrug, or engaging your shoulder blades as you reach up for a mug in your kitchen, you have your traps to thank for the fact that you can perform all of these motions without thinking twice! 

And Shrugging, Of Course

And as we established, shoulder movement–especially up and down motions like a good ol’ shrug–happens as a result of your trapezius muscles engaging! 

 

What Causes Trapezius Pain?

If you’re experiencing trapezius pain, you’re one of many people experiencing a common problem: neck and shoulder pain. [2] 

Whether your pain is debilitating or just annoying, you deserve to experience relief from the pain. 

You know some good trapezius stretches, and you also know where to find your traps, but let’s get into some common behaviors people do all the time that contribute to trapezius pain.

Poor Posture

Check your posture right now as you’re reading this. 

Chances are, your neck is craned forward as you read the words on the screen.

The truth is: Most of us don’t maintain good posture throughout the day. This happens when we look at electronic devices, slump at a work desk, or even walk without purposeful good posture. All of this can lead to those traps feeling on fire–and not in a good way! 

Stress

If you go to a massage, one of the first questions they’ll ask you is: do you feel stressed?! I have yet to answer this question with a coveted “No,” because let’s face it–life is just stressful. 

Unfortunately for our traps, these guys tend to take the brunt of our stress. 

How does this happen? Next time you feel stressed (or right now if you’re feeling stressed), check your body to see where you’re experiencing muscle tightness. 

Chances are: You’ll feel it in your neck and shoulders. We tend to tense the traps when we’re stressed, so the more relaxed you are, the more your traps will thank you. 

Sleeping Position

Sometimes, an awkward sleeping position at night can cause you to have stiff traps by day! 

Muscle Imbalances 

And finally, if you have muscle imbalances, such as weakness in your chest or upper back, your traps might be compensating, which can strain them. 

 

Other Ways to Help Your Traps

Massage with trapezius stretches is recommended

 

If you’re looking for more ways than stretches to help your traps, there are a few other options for you! 

Professional Massage

Personally, I can’t recommend a deep-tissue massage enough. When my muscles are tight from stress, workouts, or sitting at a computer for too long, I like to schedule a massage because it helps me feel instant relief from the tension. 

Often, my trapezius muscles are some of the sorest muscles during the massage. 

At-Home Massage

No time to go out for a massage? 

In that case, there are two tools I recommend–depending on whether you’re working your upper or lower back. 

At-Home Massage for Your Upper Back 

When it comes to your upper back and traps, I recommend using a trigger point release massage with a lacrosse ball. 

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Get a lacrosse ball. 
  1. Lie down on your back on a yoga mat. 
  1. Place the lacrosse ball between the floor and your upper traps (or wherever you feel the most stiffness). 
  1. Bend your knees, keeping your feet flat on the floor. 
  1. Now, use your legs to drive your body weight into the lacrosse ball.

Be sure to do this only to a point where you feel pressure but no pain! 

I also recommend THIS VIDEO, which gives instructions on how to use a lacrosse ball to massage a similar muscle, the rhomboid

At-Home Massage for Your Lower Back 

If you want to take it a step further and give yourself an entire back massage from home, I recommend a different tool for your lower back: The QL Claw

The QL Claw

Different than a lacrosse ball, this device was designed specifically for lower back massage, which makes it perfect for hitting all of the tension in your lower back muscles! 

This bad boy will hit 6 different muscles–all of which are major culprits for lower back pain. 

Wanna know how to use it? Click HERE for video instructions! 

Wanna buy one? Click HERE

Trapezius stretch massage options

 

Trapezius Stretches: FAQs

How do you loosen a tight trapezius?

The 8 trapezius stretches in this article should do the trick, but also check out the massage techniques in this article. Pairing a lacrosse ball massage with trapezius stretches could provide the relief you’re looking for! 

How do you release pressure from your trapezius?

I recommend lying on the floor and using a lacrosse ball to hit all of your pressure points. 

Why is my trapezius tight?

Often, stress, extended use of electronics, or extended time sitting at a desk can put a strain on your neck and shoulders. 

How do you loosen lower traps?

Check out Trapezius Stretches #5 & 6 in this article: the seated twist and the Y raise for two of the best lower trapezius stretches. 

Does massage help trapezius pain?

Absolutely! Combining a lacrosse ball massage with the stretches in this article tend to bring a ton of relief to loosen up your tight traps. 

 

 

 

Now that you've read about trapezius stretches, check out our page on lower trap exercises!

 

Sources:

[1] https://europepmc.org/article/NBK/nbk518994

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8208860/

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3985383/

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