The trapezius sometimes gets a bad reputation for being a superficial muscle that causes shoulder and neck pain. In truth, it is an amazing superhero muscle that takes on a big job with its multiple actions and heavy reputation. The trapezius, sometimes called the “traps,” is a diamond-shaped quadrilateral muscle that blankets the shoulders like a mini superhero cape or a stingray lying on your upper back.
The trapezius has three functional regions: the first is the upper region, which supports the neck in flexing side to side, extending, and rotating left or right on a horizontal plane. The upper fibers also help raise the scapula upwards. Next, the middle region assists in lateral upward rotation of the scapula, elevation and retraction, moving toward the midline of the body. Finally, the lower region extends the thoracic spine, depresses and retracts the scapula, and assists in raising the scapula upward, while rotating the inferior angle of the scapula to the outside (laterally).
The mighty trapezius has several origins beginning on the external occipital protuberance, medial portion of the superior nuchal line of the occiput, ligamentum nuchae and spinous processes of C-7 through T-12. It inserts on the lateral one third of the clavicle, acromion and spine of the scapula. Altogether, the trapezius actions are depression, retraction, elevation, and upward rotation of the scapula, as well as extending and rotating the head and neck.That’s a lot of responsibility!
If you are like most of us, you spend many hours a day in front of a computer screen or using your smartphone in a head forward position or shoulder to ear position that wreaks havoc on your trapezius and shoulders. Even for a superhero, it is exhausting! In addition to the other effects of sitting too much, this repetitive movement can create a hunched over back and shoulders that shrug up to your ears and will lead to tension and pain.
One reasonable question to ask: What is happening to our superhero muscle on a biological level when we are seated in a fixed position for an extended period of time?
After doing all it can to help support the situation, the muscle calls for back up from a group of cells called myofibroblasts who march in and hook their cellular structure into the surrounding connective tissue matrix, exerting a slow contraction into the fibrous webbing. One could say that it is the body’s call for back up scaffolding to help reinforce the shlumpy muscular structure into which we are molding our tissue. It can actually take hours for those contractions to completely let go once they have been engaged.
Eventually, we stand up and move around, maybe heading out for a lunch break or a snack. However, we often fail to entirely release the contractions and end up adding layer upon layer of tension as days and weeks go by in the same position.
You’re now probably wondering how to release the tension in your trapezius. Come back Friday for some fixes!