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Local pain across the shoulder girdle? Dynamically release it

The second of two release techniques to minimize pain in the upper trapezius to ease tension headaches. To read about the first, go here.

Muscle movement

The upper trapezius is a large, flat muscle close to the skin that covers the space between the neck and shoulder. The upper trapezius raises the shoulder – as in a shrug, and brings the shoulder blades closer to each other. For the neck, it rotates the head and helps the head to tilt to the side.

It becomes tight and shortened when you constantly lift the shoulders leading to general tension in the area. Reasons for lifting your shoulder could be anything from being cold, feeling stressed, or being in a compromised position for an extended period of time – think sitting at a desk where the keyboard is too high.

A great way to release this muscle is have deep tissue massages. That works because the therapist moves their hand along the muscle finding knots and working them out which makes it easier to move without pain. It’s like tenderizing meat with a mallet so it can be less chewy. Dynamic release of the muscle has the same effect, it’s just done in a different way. The muscle is pinned down by the ball and then pulled over the ball by contracting and relaxing the muscle. In this way it releases the muscle through a range of motion.

Symptoms of tightness

  • Headache at the base of the skull, above the ear, outside of the eye, or behind the eye

  • Local pain across the shoulder girdle

  • Local pain between the shoulder blades

  • Difficulty rotating or tilting your head to the side

Take the flexibility test

You should be able to:

  1. Tilt your head between 35 and 45 degrees to the side

  2. Rotate your head almost 90 degrees in each direction

If you do not have the required range of motion or it is tight getting to the end-range, you probably have a tight upper trapezius muscle. It is not uncommon to be tighter on one side. If that is the case, you want to focus your attention on that side – although taking care of both sides is not a bad thing.

The technique

  1. Stand with your back against a wall

  2. Take a tennis ball, lacrosse ball, or soft ball and place it between the wall and your upper back halfway between your neck and shoulder blade

  3. Step away from the wall about 6 to 10 inches and lean back until you find a spot that has a pain threshold of between 5 to 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, ten being excruciating

  4. Bend your knees a little bit so the ball is just above the tender spot – we’re talking less than ½ inch. This is the starting point

  5. Now tilt your head to the opposite side that the ball is on and then turn your head to the same side as the ball

  6. Return to the starting point and repeat eight to fifteen times or until there is a release in the muscle and it no longer feels as painful to do the motion

After this release is done, you should be able to move your neck without as much pain as when you started.


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