3 Reasons Why Your Neck is Always Tight
If you had to pick one place where you regularly carry the most tension in your body, what would you choose? I’m willing to bet you chose your upper trapezius muscles.
The upper trapezius muscles seem to be (in my experience) some of the most overused and abused muscles in the human body. Many people I see are, either consciously or unconsciously, in a constant shrugged posture: their shoulders are by their earlobes and necks are pulled forward. Why is this?
There are a few factors that contribute to tight upper traps:
- Posture. Sedentary individuals seldom remember to sit upright. Often times, you see people with significant flexion in the thoracic spine, protraction of the cervical spine (neck) who are hunched over their computers. Forward head posture will place extra stress on your vertebrae. According to chiropractor Dr. Jason Queiros, “Every inch you hold your head forward, you add 10 pounds of pressure on your spine. Let’s say you’re leaning into your monitor by just two inches, that’s 20 extra pounds that your back and spinal column have to endure.” The muscles in your back and neck need to compensate for this imbalance.
- Breathing. Stress individuals have the propensity to overuse accessory muscles for breathing like the scalenes, sternocleidomastoid, and the upper trapezius, rather than the diaphragm. The tonic muscles in the front of the body shorten, while the phasic muscles in the back lengthen. Neck breathing facilitates a constant “shrugged” position of the shoulders, which are going to put your upper trapezius muscles into overtime.
- Shoulder stability. The overworked upper trapezii may prevent the other shoulder stabilizers and rotator cuff muscles from functioning as they should. The lower and middle trapezius, the serratus anterior, the rhomboids may all be dysfunctional or under-active as a result.
Now, the way most people look to alleviate tight traps is through stretching or massage. While these modalities can be extremely effective, they are usually short-lived in their relief.
To nip the problem in the bud, you need to address all three of these elements above simultaneously. Surprisingly, changing your breathing first may favorably impact the other two areas. When the breath is out of whack, the body cannot function optimally!
Now, conjunction with adding some breathing drills into your daily routine, some supplementary shoulder stability work could do you some good. Here are a few of my favorite exercises:
- Scap push-ups
- Y’s and t’s
- Cable external rotation
- Bear crawls
- Wall slides
- Reverse shrugs
- Serratus pull-overs
- Band tears
What’s most important, throughout all of these movements, is to make sure you’re not shrugging your shoulders, otherwise these movements will be ineffective. I often find myself tapping my clients on their shoulders to remind them.
If you want to find provide your traps with some relief, corrective exercises and breathing drills are going to be the most effective methods to lessen tension. Once you’re aware of it, you’ll probably be surprised to find out just how often your body instinctively reverts to a shrugged position. The key is consistency. Let some of your other surrounding muscles do their job and give your traps a break…