Stretches to Loosen Your Trapezius Muscles

Medically reviewed by Daniel Bubnis, MS, NASM-CPT, NASE Level II-CSS on January 19, 2018Written by Gretchen Stelter on December 4, 2015

Your trapezius muscles

You may wonder what, exactly, your trapezius is — or maybe not, since you’re reading this.

Most people have a vague idea that it’s part of their shoulders and neck in some way and know they need to loosen it. But they aren’t necessarily clear what it does.

To be specific, it’s part of your shoulder girdle. It’s responsible for moving and rotating your shoulder blade, stabilizing your arm, and extending your neck. Basically, it does a lot of work, making it an easy place for stress and tension to land. This is especially true of the upper part of the trapezius in your lower neck.

To loosen and ease this muscle, you need to do a little shoulder work, a little neck work, and a little upper back work.

Ear to shoulder

You can start off sitting or standing, but as part of this series, sitting on the ground, on a mat, is recommended.

Ear to Shoulder
  1. Slowly and with ease, take your right ear toward your right shoulder. It’s natural for your left shoulder to lift as you do this. If that happens, ease your head back toward center until you can relax your left shoulder back down.
  2. Lift your right hand up and over your head, resting your hand on your left cheekbone. Do not pull on your head now, though. Simply rest your hand there for just slightly more pressure. This very gently stretches your upper trapezius.
  3. Breathe as you sit here for at least 30 seconds.
  4. Gently release this side, and then ease your left ear toward your left shoulder and complete the stretch on the other side, breathing deeply through it.

Crocodile pose (Makarasana)

This move can be uncomfortable at first. It may feel odd to relax facedown, but if you breathe slowly and let go, this can really help ease your trapezius.

Crocodile
  1. Lie down on your stomach with your feet shoulder-width apart, and rest your hands one on top of the other under your chin.
  2. When you’re in place, lie flat and rest your forehead on your stacked hands. This will actually release lower back compression as well, but the main thing you want to visualize and focus on here is lengthening your spine and releasing any tension in your upper back and neck.
  3. Breathe deeply and try to relax here.

Cobra pose (Bhujangasana)

This pose releases tension in your lower neck and trapezius and stretches your throat. It also increases flexibility in your spine and strengthens your back and arms, helping prevent future trapezius issues.

Cobra
  1. Lift your head and place your hands on the floor next to your shoulders, keeping your arms parallel and your elbows close to your body. Press the tops of your feet into the floor and inhale deeply as you begin to lift your head and chest. If possible, straighten your arms and keep in mind that straightening them completely will arch your back quite a bit.
  2. Whether you lift all the way to straight arms or not, keep in mind that you want your neck and head (cervical spine) to be on the same curve. You will lift your head as well, but you want to simply ease it up.
  3. Check your chin. It’s incredibly common to jut your chin out in this pose and let your shoulders creep up toward your ears, so take a moment to roll your shoulders back and down, pulling your shoulder blades closer together as you pull your torso through your upper arms, and ease your chin back.
  4. Hold this for a few breaths and release on an exhale.
  5. Inhale as you lift into this pose at least two more times, holding it for a little bit longer each time.

Cat-Cow pose (Marjaryasana-Bitilasana)

This move relieves tension in your cervical spine and stretches your back muscles as well as the front of your torso. Keep in mind that when using this pose specifically for your trapezius, you want to focus on the area right between your upper shoulder blades, alternately arching and releasing your neck.

Cat/Cow
  1. Push up onto all fours, into a tabletop position. Your hips should be directly over your knees, your shoulders over your elbows, and your elbows over your wrists.
  2. As you inhale, lift your head, chest, and sitting bones, letting your belly sink, and arching your back.
  3. As you exhale, round your spine toward the sky and release your head into the Cat pose.
  4. Continue taking deep breaths, moving with your breath as you do, inhaling as you arch your back and exhaling as you round your back.

Wide-leg forward fold (Prasarita Padottanasana)

This pose decompresses your spine, strengthens your upper back and shoulders, and lengthens and eases your neck muscles.

Forward Fold
  1. Push to standing and, keeping your feet parallel, widen your stance to approximately a leg’s length. With your hands on your hips, release your torso and slowly bend forward, keeping all four corners of your feet rooted. If you feel unstable in this pose, bend your knees slightly and release your hands to the ground, shoulder-width apart.
  2. After you feel full rooted in this forward bend, interlace your hands behind your back, hug your shoulder blades in, and release your hands toward the floor.
Gretchen Stelter
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