Bunched-up, tight shoulders and neck? Time to relax those trapezius muscles.
“Relax!” the tai-chi instructor told me. I am relaxed, I thought to myself. But my tight trapezius muscle gave me away. The trapezius starts just under the back of the head, comes out down across the shoulder blades in the back, and runs part-way down the back; picture a muscle cape. It helps control head and shoulder movements. But this area of the body can get super tight from a number of factors, from overdoing it in a hobby like tennis; to muscles straining to compensate for a mild to moderate scoliosis of the spine; and from poor posture, such as spending all day staring at an electronic device. If the area around the back of your neck and top of the shoulders feels all rigid and lumpy, instead of strong and flexible, try these three ideas:
Unlike traditional massages, where muscles are rubbed or stroked, myofascial release focuses pressure on one spot, then releases it. The idea is to loosen the fascia around the muscle, breaking up adhesions where things are stuck, and increasing blood flow. Start by finding your trigger point—that little ball or crunchy spot where you feel super tight. Press on it firmly, using either your fingers, or a tool such as a tennis ball in a sock, a foam roller, or a massage cane. Press firmly for 90 to 120 seconds, then let go. Try to work this into your daily routine, pressing on the trigger point five or six times throughout the day, suggests the Cleveland Clinic.
Created in the 1970s by chiropractor Dr. Kenzo Kase, Kinesio Tex Tape is thought to alleviate pain and encourage lymphatic drainage by microscopically lifting the skin. The company says this allows for a decrease in inflammation of the affected areas, and there is some research that backs this up. Once educated in the method, practitioners like chiropractic doctors or personal trainers place the Kinesio tape in single “I” strips or modifications in the shape of an X, Y, or other shapes, on their clients. Or get pre-cut tapes and apply them yourself. Here's a how-to video.
Make Like a Cactus
Get your back flat up against a wall, and bring both arms up at 90 degrees (pretend you are a cactus). This stretch can also be done while laying flat on the ground, or inside a doorframe, for an additional pull on those tight muscles. You can even do Cactus while in Warrior 1 pose, AKA Virabhadrasana I.
Want more? Check out our story “Release Your Neck.”