Tackling the upper trapezius

The upper fibers of the trapezius muscle

The upper fibers of the trapezius muscle



I have always dealt with overly tight upper trapezius muscles. Perhaps it stems from my easily stressed personality, or the fact that I was raised in a cold environment (once they cancelled school not because it was snowing but simply because it was too cold). Overly active upper trapezius muscles are common in many people and can cause trigger points which are aggravated by subconsciously contracting the muscles due to psychological stressors, anxiety, cold and postural imbalance. However, the fact that I have been doing myofascial release and cupping religiously while working on my thoracic extension (which implements the lower and middle trapezius for postural stability) made me wonder why I was still feeling excessive pain in my upper trapezius.

Since completely eliminating a problem entails knowing WHY the problem occurs, I decided to be cognizant of my habitual movements to see where I could be placing excess stress on my upper traps. I realized putting my arm out the car window while driving placed stress on my upper traps. Putting my elbows on the table while eating put excess stress on my upper traps (while I am skeptical of the relative cultural paradigm from which “table manners” arises, I stopped putting my elbows on the table after this). I stopped shrugging the phone between my shoulder and ear while multitasking and instead use a bluetooth or speakerphone. I started carrying lighter purses since it puts uneven pressure on one upper trap. While all of these actions contribute to my upper trapezius pain, I was disregarding one huge culprit.

Like most women, I wear a bra for a majority of the time- especially when I’m out and about being active. Unlike most women who are unaware that they are wearing the wrong bra size (roughly 80%), I always knew I was wearing the wrong bra size. However, since I wasn’t able to find my bra size easily (or cheaply), I settled for wearing bras which had band sizes that were too big for me. When this happens, your bra straps constantly cut into your shoulders in attempts to support the weight of your breasts, which consequently tightens your upper trapezius muscles, which can lead to shoulder, neck and back pain over time. Theoretically, your band should provide 80% of the bust support while your straps should only be giving 20% of the support. Your shoulders and bra straps should never be the sole support of the weight of your bust. When wearing a bra that’s the right size, it should ideally support your bust without putting excess strain on your upper trapezius muscles. Although getting properly fitted for a bra and spending money to buy the right size seems like a chore, if you constantly wear a bra and are dealing with pain it will be a worthwhile investment.

Tackling my upper trapezius tightness makes me realize how postural problems and muscular pain often stem from multifaceted sources. While this might seem disheartening and frustrating when attempting to find the root of a problem to fix it, I like to think of it as putting pieces together to solve a mystery.

PS: Speaking of investments, one investment I’ve already made is using a theracane to dig into my tight upper trapezius to reverse the tension!
Theracane upper trap release

Theracane upper trap release


http://www.amazon.com/Thera-Cane-JMAS5000-Massager/dp/B000PRMCJU

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Chinese Cupping.

When I tell most people I have incorporated Chinese cupping into my rehabilitation program, I can sense that they are somewhat incredulous. After all, I am such a seemingly logical person who makes decisions based on scientific evidence, why on earth would I engage in something that many overlook since it stems from the negative connotations of “alternative medicine”. However, just because something is not used as a form of treatment in typical western medicine practices today, does not mean it isn’t effective. Historically speaking, everyone from the ancient Chinese and the ancient Greeks (including Hippocrates) used cupping in attempts to fix internal disease and structural problems. Nowadays cupping has made a comeback in places such as massage and acupuncture, and even sports rehabilitation for injuries. I have personally seen it be utilized to help prevent knee injuries in MMA fighters (knee injuries tend to be quite common in all sports, not just MMA).

While typical myofascial releases (ie: foam rollers, lacrosse balls on trigger points) targets compression, cupping is essentially myofascial decompression. Think of it as inverted myofasical release. It helps aid in releasing the restrictive tissue that results in sub-optimal compensation by stretching out the fascia. It also increases blood flow as well as helps with mobility and flexibility. Over time, when coupled with compression myofasical releases and corrective exercise it can help provide pain relief. I like to use cupping as a precursor to (compression) myofascial release a couple of times a week since it penetrates the superficial layers and sends blood flow to the region which helps promote more of a release to the restrictive tissue.

Cupping along the intercostal regions.

Cupping along the intercostal regions to promote better breathing & relaxation.


Cupping the rectus femoris to help with lower back pain associated with anterior pelvic tilts.

Cupping the rectus femoris to help with lower back pain associated with anterior pelvic tilts.

OTHER NOTES: Bruising does occur for many people. I remember doing this at the gym and one of the guys was like “Why are you giving yourself hickeys, can’t you find a nice young man to do that for you?” HAHAH 😛 I would be aware of that before experimenting with cupping, in case you are having an important business meeting or something and don’t want people to make the wrong assumptions. I wouldn’t use cupping if you’re anemic, pregnant, or have cardiovascular diseases. I’m not a doctor just someone documenting their experiences. So if you have any abnormal conditions and want to take up cupping I would recommend asking your doctor if it’s okay before trying it and seeing a licensed acupuncturist who has expertise in that field.

I believe that if something is has positive effects, it should be added to my arsenal, regardless if it is an ancient therapeutic method, or a new revolutionary technique. If it provides value, it’s worthwhile. And I have felt the positive effects from cupping so that’s why continue to do it. Since cupping my lower back pain has reduced, and the upper trapezius pain I felt when doing Muay Thai sparring has significantly diminished. ALSO ladies, cupping is also shown to reduce cellulite, which is perfect for swimsuit season. Since a cupping set runs around $25 on Amazon, I’d say it’s a worthwhile investment! In terms of our injury rehab we should implement techniques that work, rather than just blindly doing what everyone else does….that’s living intentionally not habitually 🙂

MFR: Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That?

I remember the day I was first introduced to myofascial release. It was the day after a particularly difficult night of Randori (Judo sparring). I was unaware of this at the time, but my internally rotated shoulders caused an impingement in my shoulder which was exacerbated by the high intensity nature of Judo (gentle way my ass). Anyways, ever since I started Judo, I was used to having an excruciating pain in my right shoulder (which I brushed off due to the “no pain no gain” mentality). However, two days after that Randori session, the pain was still excruciating and I could not lift my arm. After skeptically trying myofascial release and learning how to (agonizingly) release my pectoralis minor&major, subscapularis and latissimus dorsi, I was surprised that I could lift my arms without pain simply after rubbing a $3 lacrosse ball on the right trigger points. This is when I converted to the religion of myofascial release.

Now I say myofascial release is my religion in a tongue in cheek way. I personally do not believe in blindly following dogma (live INTENTIONALLY, not habitually). HOWEVER, for the effects of myofascial release to be beneficial in the long run you need to do it religiously. This is especially important when first starting out since there will be a lot of internal restrictions in your body, and releasing them takes time. Your dysfunctions cannot be addressed through corrective exercise if there are internal restrictions present. This is why myofascial release is an important first step to any functional training regimen. Eventually, your body might not require as much time spent on myofascial release, but generally when starting out it’s imperative to dedicate time to it. Despite the fact that the trigger points are painful (I have witnessed huge, tattooed Mixed Martial Arts fighters scream like little girls when getting their trigger points released), it’s best to spend at least a couple of minutes on each trigger point. It’s funny how five minutes instantly seems like an hour when you are in excruciating pain. In general when starting out it takes AT LEAST an hour to get all the necessary trigger points released. I recommend focusing on myofascial release AT LEAST once a day when starting out. When I tell people this, their reaction is generally:
aintnobody

It was honestly my reaction to myofascial release at first as well. Most of us are extremely busy, so adding one more regimen to our routine seems daunting. However, when looking at the cost benefit analysis, the physical benefits I received from doing myofascial release outweighed the time cost. I am not in pain and I am less susceptible to injury. Moreover, I feel like I get a lot more out of my workouts and training sessions if I do myofascial release before, since my body has less restrictions. Additionally, I found ways to multitask while doing myofascial release. I arrive at the gym 30 minutes early so I can myofascialize before training. I myofascialize when studying instead of sitting hunched over a desk. I myofascialize while watching tv instead of sprawling on the couch looking like Homer Simpson. And I am actually myofascializing my quadriceps on a PVC pipe while typing this blog up 🙂
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[PS: Before all you anatomy/grammar nazis get your panties in a bunch that I said myofascialize, I acknowledge that this is a word I made up and if you google search it all the links that come up are mine].

Whether you’re a UFC fighter who trains twice a day or an engineer who sits at a desk for 40 hours a week, myofascial release will be beneficial. It’s also beautiful that these techniques can be done by yourself utilizing tools such as the theracane, lacrosse ball, pvc pipe, foam roller etc. I believe that these are useful investments, especially since I hear injury rehab and pain pills usually cost money as well. Releasing the bound up fascial tissue in the body is important for pain management, optimizing movement when exercising and overall physical wellness (I’m 21 but I can only imagine what pain I would have felt at 41 if I never bothered to myofascialize). I am glad I implemented myofascial release into my training regimen, mainly because it allows me to keep training.